I woke up this morning in a foreign land surrounded by people that are very different from me. Most of them will never come close to understanding who I am or why I am here. It is kind of an odd place to be on Father's Day, but I will tell you how my day unfolded with the people of a different culture who have taught me far more than I have taught them.
Last night my youngest daughter took me to her school. There were chairs lining the walls that were to be filled by 23 other fathers and myself. One by one the children recited poems, sang songs gave tributes, handed out gifts and served food and drinks. There were some mothers present too…single moms of kids, doing their best to fill both roles, pinch hitting for the dads that had lost interest.
The evening at the school had some highlights but none as poignant as the little boy who dedicated his guitar solo to his father who is in prison. It was dead silent as he played, then thunderous applause for a child without a dad, who wanted to be heard anyway.
We were a diverse group, professionals, laborers, young, old, rich and poor. Of course there was one white guy that claims to be the father of a brown skinned girl named Martha.
When I checked my email, before going to bed, there was a message asking me to call home at a specific time so I could talk to Risha and Kristen for Father's Day. They wanted to be sure and catch me even though I am on another continent.
The phone rang early this morning. It was Isabel, a friend from Lima, wishing me a happy Father's Day. She left home at an early age. Abuse and neglect made it dangerous to live with her family, but in her teen years she gave her father another chance. She understood that his life was shaped by his childhood as well, and she was determined to change the cycle of abuse and ultimately bring love into their relationship.
Martha and Candy ceremoniously produced the package that Sandi had sent for Father's Day. Of course, all four girls had their names written on the card and none of them likely knew what the gift was, but everyone wanted me to know that I was loved, and I did know!
Vicente, our watchman, made it a point to find me this morning. He is 13 years my senior but he still buried his face in my chest and said, “Happy Father's Day Papa Paul.”
The wife of our agricultural engineer brought their little girl to the office this morning. Eliseo works in the jungle on our property 50 miles up the Amazon River. His daughter was wearing a pink dress with white silk lace. She wanted to look pretty when she talked to her father on the radio. She was very serious while we were trying to raise someone on the other end, but flashed a huge toothless grin when she heard the sound of her daddy's voice.
There was a knock on my door. Maria Belen and Moses’ family brought me a cake along with a beautiful poem they had written about being the father of “all the children in our facility.” It was filled with joy and a little sadness, as this is the first Father's Day without their dad. I was so blessed to receive the love that had been given to him all those years.
Two of our girls from the center were working this morning as part of their vocational training program. As it came close to the end of their shift, one of the girls asked me if she could go visit her father. His house is nearby and when her husband abandoned Olga, she and baby Sarah went to live there. With all the love he had for those two, his old age and frail health made it impossible to support them, yet when Father's Day came, Olga's heart turned toward home.
Elvira wanted to talk with her dad on the radio. He lives deep in the jungle and has been out of her life for a long time, but she thought he might be proud of her work and would want to know about his grandson, Angel.
There is a woman that comes to our headquarters one day a week to work, in exchange for her daughter's tuition. The mother was raped 13 years ago and as a result she is raising a child alone. I told her not to come today because the group was in the jungle, and it was Father's Day. Early this morning they appeared, right on schedule. For some reason they wanted to be here.
Edith helped her Mom clean and they stayed busy all morning, but before they left the mother said to me, “My daughter would like to sing you a special song for Father's Day. She learned it in school, doesn't have a father to sing it to, and she loves you so much.”
I sat across the table from this very poor, fatherless thirteen-year-old girl. I watched her lips move as she silently rehearsed the words, and then started to hum bits and pieces of the song in an attempt to catch the tune. She started to sing very softly, and I couldn't understand most of her words but in a single moment it hit me. She was giving me all she had.
She had no money for parties or cake or presents but as she finished the first verse she looked different to me, her faded T-shirt became a formal gown and her dull disheveled hair, sparkled with jewels like a princess at a ball. Her face took on a gentle glow and her eyes became soft and shy.
It is a mystery how a little girl's need to be heard can fill in missing words and envelope a faltering melody. Her whispered lyrics held the power of Pavarotti because they came from a deep desire to love and be loved by a father.
She didn't look at me during the song, but at the end she gave a quick glance for approval, which turned to a blush when she saw my tears. Yes, I saw much more than a poor little girl. I saw a little princess who needs the love of a daddy.
This day has been a day of reminders, reiterating to me the purpose of our organization being here…my purpose for being here. It is to fill a longing in the hearts around us. That innate desire that each of us have to be important to someone, to know that someone cares. Really, really cares.
I believe that we are all born with a God given longing for the love of a father. We were made that way. So many people find destructive ways to fill that need or dull the pain of the void, while others live with a silent ache their whole life and wonder what is missing.
It is easy for me to identify that need. I have an earthly father that understands patience and forgiveness, responsibility and commitment, who loved me all the way through the difficult times and gave an example that was worthy of following. Now my passion in life is to connect people with a living example of that father-love, first from the lives of men like my dad and then to the Father in heaven whose passion and enthusiasm for lonely people caused Him to traverse the universe in search of people who simply want to be listened to.... and loved.
Happy Father’s Day