This article was previously published in Sword & Spade Magazine.
Paul Waldorf didn’t always remember the power of heart to heart moments with dad.
“The older my father gets,” I thought to myself when I was a young adult, “the smarter he gets.” It was only after years of maturing and making an honest effort to get to know my father that I came to understand that it was I who was starting to grow in wisdom. I lost my father to heart disease a year ago, but I am thankful for every day I got to spend with him and thankful for all the lessons he taught me. There is no other source for that sort of wisdom.
I remember a time when the two of us went to a men’s conference and the priest giving a talk said that all sons want from their fathers is to see his heart. It sounds so simple but I know it was anything but simple for my father. At that conference, when the priest said that, both of us knew it was true but still lacked the knowledge of how to live that truth. I have also come to learn that this is precisely what God is attempting to do with us, reveal His heart to us. We just have to be open to it. And it seems that there’s an important relationship between men — especially fathers and sons — coming to a “heart to heart” moment. St. John Henry Newman, although he was a towering intellect, took a simple line to get at “the heart” of how we come to all truth, cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart). To know and be known in love by another helps us know the love of God, especially when we speak of fathers. In this vein, one might recall the famous words from the prophet Micah, speaking about the coming of the Messiah: “…he it is shall reconcile heart of father to son, heart of son to father…” (Malachi 4:6).
I wish I could say that my father and I always had such a heart-to-heart relationship, but that was not so. During my high school years I rejected most of what my father stood for, and we fought often. It wasn’t until I invited my father on a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) that things started to change, and it was interesting how our hearts opened. On that trip, my father was upset with me over a couple of broken eggs, and I let loose on him with a vulgar tirade and told him to go tell it to the bears because I didn’t care to hear what he had to say. That night as I was climbing into my tent and the day’s tensions had loosened in the open air of nature, my father apologized to me and I did the same with him. In that moment of humility and vulnerability, my father revealed himself to me. And, conversely, I revealed myself to him. We were both right in being wrong. We were both broken men.
I believe that God has been trying to teach me in the best way possible. He has blessed me with seven wonderful children, four daughters and three sons, and He has entrusted me with the task to reveal Him to my children. It is amazing how easy it has been to have a close relationship with all of my daughters and it is amazing how much I have struggled to reveal my heart and to reveal God to my sons. My boys are now 24, 18, and 14. Greg is my oldest. He recently graduated as a Mechanical Engineer, the first boy to follow in my father’s footsteps as an engineer. Greg and I managed to get through the teenage years without too much drama but also without as much of a relationship as he deserved from his father. That has been changing with each year that goes by.
There was a time, however, when the busyness of life crept in, and I came to see how I was overseeing my children but I was not revealing my heart to them. We did not know each other in the form of intimacy that fatherly love entails. Joshua and I had a particularly rocky relationship during his teen years, and I saw history repeating itself. One day he came to me and said he needed some “quality” dad time and not just the ordinary time around the house. Looking back on that, I believe God was using my son to kick me in the rear and get me to start acting like the father he created me to be. Knowing the place and means that my father and I had come to see cor ad cor a bit better, I decided to take Joshua, my youngest son, Benjamin, and our German Shorthair, Rocky, up to the BWCA for a 10-day trip.
I truly believe God had His hand in this trip and used His beautiful creation to help us learn about Him and the relationship He wants to have with us. God understands my failures as a father and wanted to help me overcome them. After getting the boys, our gear, and the dog settled in the canoe, I went to park our car. On my walk back down to the lake a man stopped me and asked if I was taking those two boys on a trip by myself. I said yes and then he proceeded to tell me that on this trip I would be earning points towards Heaven and told me not to “blow it” by yelling at those boys. Naturally, I took this as a confirmation of the intent of this trip, and God’s clear message to me. I think for one of the first times in my life I truly listened to God and obeyed. No matter what happened on the trip I did not raise my voice to the boys. God revealed Himself to me and helped me to reveal Him to my sons.
I have subsequently learned how important it was for us to reconcile into a healthier relationship. Recently my wife shared a video from my son Joshua where he described his relationship with his father, and how that affected his relationship with God. For most of the video, he recalled the pain and sense of distance that existed between us as father and son. He was aware of how this affected his understanding and relationship with God as well, sensing that to call God “Father” did not bring comfort to him. During those rough years, he saw God the Father as an angry, vengeful Father. But, he said, when I started to act as the father God intended me to be, my son started to know God as He truly is, a loving, merciful Father —much of that began when we reconnected on that trip. When I watched my son’s testimony, I was truly humbled to understand how important my role as a father is. God wants to use us as fathers to reveal Him to others and when we don’t live and act as God intended, our children grow up with a distorted view of God. My hope and prayer is that as I get older, my relationship with God grows closer so those watching me will come to know God as the loving, merciful Father He is.