I posted on Twitter several weeks back that we’ve been working with the Monkey on potty training and that a boy first hears his father say “I’m proud of you” after a successful effort on the toilet. Even more, I think the father learns to say those words in such an intimate moment with his boy (or girl). If a dad isn’t around during those early years, whether because he’s actually gone or just too busy, then he may never learn to tell his kids he’s proud of them.
Neither of my dads was around during those formative years. My biological father left before then, and I’m not sure if my stepfather had entered the picture yet. I haven’t spoken to Señor Esperanza, my father, since I was a young child and don’t remember what he said on that occasion, but I doubt it was “I’m proud of you.” My stepdad never actually said the words either, though he sort of did. (I wrote about this in Not Bad for a White Boy.)
The day of Dad’s funeral—he died exactly one year ago today—a close friend of his, Mr. Apple, a mechanic, pulled me aside and said, “Bobby was proud of you. He talked about you all the time. He may have never said it, but he was.”
I know he was. But a boy needs to hear the words the way a girl needs to hear from her dad that she’s beautiful, which assures her of his affection for her. Maybe Dad never said the words because he’d never heard them himself, a likely explanation. That’s why it’s important for me to practice using them now for when Micah and the Monkey will need them even more, when they’re trying to figure out their place in life and doubt their ability. Even more, when they doubt who they are.
Even Jesus needed to hear these words from his Dad.
A voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” —Luke 3:22 NIV
When he heard these words, Jesus hadn’t even “done” anything yet. He hadn’t healed anyone or raised anyone from the dead. He hadn’t fed an arena-sized crowd with fish and bread. He hadn’t quieted a storm for his terrified friends. He hadn’t exorcised any demons. He hadn’t yet endured the Roman nails thereby securing our ransom from sin and death. Jesus was loved by his Father because of who he was, not for what he’d done or would do.
And so I am loved by my adopted Father, not for what I do, but for who I am, even though sometimes I act very unlovable. As he does, I delight in my boys: Micah who knows nothing of potty training and the Monkey, whether he makes it in time or if I have to clean up where he has failed. He’ll get it eventually, just as I will.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. —Philippians 1:6 NLT
Though it’s fraught with strange theology, one of my favorite movies is The Lion King, because I can relate to Simba, who lost his identity only to reclaim it. I love the scene where Rafiki discovers him and says, “You don’t even know who you are. But I know who you are. You’re Mufasa’s boy.”
Whenever I doubt myself and my purpose, I hear Rafiki whisper convincingly, “You’re Mufasa’s boy.” I am my Father’s son and never have to strain to hear those words: “I’m proud of you.”