On Fatherhood and Snotty Shirts

I was at Home Depot last night buying light bulbs for the house. It was a family trip, and my wife and I had split the kids. She had our one month-old daughter. I had our two year-old son.

I hate referring to kids as snot-nosed because it demeans a beautiful and precious gift from God, which they are. But as in last night’s case, my son actually had a snotty nose. He has a bit of a cold it seems.

As I was patiently pondering the pros and cons of LED versus incandescence, my son decided he had waited in the cart long enough. He wanted to get down and explore. So he stood up in the cart, threw his leg over the side, and began to climb down. He quickly lost his balance. Sensing immediate danger I lunged to the cart just in time to scoop him into my arms and prevent his fall.

Whew! Catastrophe averted in the Home Depot tonight! I was relieved.

In my urgency I grabbed my son any way I could. It so happened that I was holding his chest against my chest and his face was planted on my shoulder. When he righted himself and sat up in my arms my shirt now prominently displayed the contents of what had been, only moments ago, in my son’s nose. My shirt now had a three-inch green stripe across the left shoulder. If you didn’t know better you might have mistaken me for a pilot!

I placed my son safely┬áback in the cart, along with whatever bulb was in my hand at the moment, and headed for the check out. While en route I glanced down in disgust at my shirt’s new adornment. I was quite displeased by the unsanitary nature of it. Ick! I loathe having bodily fluids on my clothing. I rather like to be clean.

However, I then directed my eyes down toward my son. He was smiling–filled with glee to behold the many wondrous sights a home improvement store has to behold an impressionable young toddler. My frustration could not be rightly directed at him. After all it wasn’t his fault.

Now I’ve only been a father for a few years. And I detest the stereotype that parents live in messy homes doomed to perpetual chaos and that they always wear dirty clothes because their children continuously soil them. I shudder to think I fulfill that stereotype. Rather I work to reverse it fastidiously.

But in this moment last night at Home Depot I realized something. Yes I am a father, and yes I have a massive snot wad on my shirt. That cannot be denied. And I suppose to be fair then, I should have to at least entertain the possibility for discussion whether or not I fulfill this awful stereotype. Fair enough. But in this moment I lost no degree of disgust against wearing mucous for all to see. I loathed it every bit as much as I always have.

I approached the check out however, totally unashamed and without an ounce of regret for the decision that resulted in my snotty shirt. I did not regret choosing to save my son. If presented as two possible options I would much rather have a snot-nosed shirt than a seriously injured son. I realized that being a father doesn’t mean you lose your sense of cleanliness, propriety, or healthy sanitation. Those are all important. I might even go as far as to say sanitation and propriety are hallmarks of civilization. But rather fatherhood means loving someone else more than even those important desires you have for yourself.

In fact Scripture calls us to a love even greater, indeed. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Scripture calls me to value and love my son even more than myself. While I would definitely say I’m not there yet, I can also say I’m closer today than I used to be in large part because God made me a father.

I love my son. I love being a father. One thing I’ve learned is that being a father does not mean you lose all sense of dignity. Instead, I think, being a father means learning that some things matter even more than dignity. Or in this case, someone who matters more. Namely, my son.