Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tender Heart: A Tribute to my Husband on Father's Day

When I was a teenager, I romanticized the strong, silent type of man. The heroes of the fantasy tales which filled my notebooks and computer files were mostly a mixture of Aragorn, Darcy, Rochester, and Jim from Moccasin Trail– mysterious, brooding men, passionate and stern, occasionally melodramatic, what I imagined as masculinity embodied.  The men in my stories never cried. They might be overcome by emotion that left them more silent and brooding than ever. They might be angry, and I, daringly, might let the word "damn" fall from their mouths as an expression of just how angry they were (heady stuff for a homeschooled girl!) but as far as weeping? That was extremely rare.

Then I grew up, at least a little, and fell in love with the man who is now my husband, and we married. And for three and a half years I have had the privilege and the blessing of living with a gentle, tender-hearted man. At the beginning of our marriage, I didn't see or recognize this beautiful characteristic for what it was. Though I appreciated the fact that even in our biggest arguments, Nate never raised his voice to me, never stalked off, and never stonewalled, it dismayed me to find that when I sinfully said things that hurt him, he let me see the wounds. I wished he would become angry so that I could be defensive or justify myself. I wanted him to fight back. Instead, this gentle man who is my husband was not afraid to bleed out his pain and sadness in front of me. And then there was the flip side– on the occasion when he (almost always unintentionally) did or said something that hurt me, and I let him know in no uncertain terms, his responses left me speechless. Where I would have tried to defend myself to prop up my own pride, he was humble. Where it might have taken days for me to acknowledge my own sin, he was quick to apologize and ask forgiveness. And where I would have had a thousand mental dialogues trying to justify or to shift blame for what I had said or done in an attempt to avoid my guilt, he showed me a tender heart that truly broke over his own sin.

When I think of how the tender heart of my husband has impacted me it calls to mind the phrase from Hero's soliloquy in Much Ado About Nothing when she overhears someone saying that Benedick, with whom she has always enjoyed verbally sparring, is in love with her: "And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee/ Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand". God is surely using the tender heart of my husband to tame and sanctify my own wild, stubborn, prideful heart.

But what does this have to do with Father's Day?

Simply, that though Nate's tender heart has been a glimpse of Jesus to me since the beginning of our marriage, that glimpse became more than a glimpse– it became a living picture– when we became parents. In all the heartbreak and grief and ups and downs of the past year and a half, from conceiving Livia and Lucy till now– awaiting their first birthday in Heaven on Wednesday, and the birth of their little brother any day now– I have come to be thankful in the deeps of my heart and soul that a tender-hearted man is the father of my babies.

The morning after Livia and Lucy were born, I asked my friend and mentor, Blythe, to visit us in the hospital. Later she told me that the most powerful moments of that time for her were to see the tenderness with which Nate treated me. When Blythe arrived, we had a wonderful, kind photographer there taking the only pictures of our girls we would ever have. Our doctor and nurse were in and out. Our pastor was there, and so was my sister and Nate's mom. There were enough people that a lot of men would have at least tried to seal off their emotions, to be "strong". Instead, my husband got into the hospital bed next to me and we both sobbed as the photographer did her work. And that was just the beginning. In the year since, there have been countless times we have held each other and sobbed for our daughters... so many times when out of the blue Nate will turn to me with tears in his eyes, because something he just saw or heard or thought about reminded him of our Lucy and Livia. Throughout this whole pregnancy with our son he has been unfailing in his gentleness to me. There has been no charade of strength. He has embraced me in my weakness and I have embraced him in his, and we have looked to Jesus to be our only strength.

Only a week or two after we found out we were pregnant with our Tadpole, I wrote a letter to him (though of course at the time I didn't know if he was our son or our daughter.) At the end there is a line break, and then this:
I had to pause, because your daddy came home and was receiving the brunt of my pent-up frustration over our healthcare. It is not his fault, poor man– and know, Tadpole, that you have a very, very patient father. Your daddy is a man with such a mild disposition– the very furthest thing from an angry man I have ever met. I see Jesus in him the way he meets my anger with gentleness, my frustration with patience, my bitterness with love, and my irritability with comfort. You have a good father, Tadpole– one who will, God willing, model Christ to you much better than I can. He is gone now, to buy steaks to grill for our supper. He left a little before five this morning and now he runs cheerfully off to the store so that he can make his cranky, irritable wife dinner! Tadpole, if you are a boy then I can point you to no better model of husband-hood than your father. He loves me well and lays down his life for us both. If you are a daughter, Tadpole, a little girl who may someday grow up to be a woman who desires, like I did, to be loved by a good man, then look for someone like your father. He is only twenty-seven– if you are born when your estimated due date is then he will just be twenty-eight– yet he has a humility and a gentleness that many men lack well into their forties or fifties.
In our moments of weeping I look at my husband and I see Jesus because Jesus wept. In our messed-up world there are so many definitions of what it means to be a man, and I say that the only safe model is the God-Man: the Jesus who wept, the Jesus who was tender-hearted and gentle with those whose spirits were broken. I read about husbands needing to lead, about fathers needing to step up, about what manliness means, but I have never seen a clearer example of leadership than in my husband taking charge of cooking and groceries and so many other household things in the course of both pregnancies in the last eighteen months. I have never seen a more beautiful picture of fatherhood than in my husband lacing his fingers in mine and crying freely and unashamed at the grave of our daughters. And when I think of real manhood, I think of my husband and his gentle, tender heart.

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