While pastoring in Western Canada in the second half of the 1950s I often went out in the afternoon to visit shut-ins, hospital patients, or newcomers to our growing church.
In 1956 our children were ages eight, five, three and one. Kathleen was home with the two younger children during the day and as the older two arrived home from school mid-afternoon she was there to receive them.
When my afternoon calls were coming to an end, and I was ready to start for home, I would use the nearest phone to tell Kathleen my approximate time of arrival.
For that arrival she had a ritual she practiced with the children. She would turn from the phone and say to them with excitement, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” The children would go into a dance of joy and be at the door to greet me when they heard the car in the driveway. Being treated with such enthusiasm was a father’s joy.
This tale is really a very thin slice of our family life. It may scarcely seem worth recalling, but in retrospect, with two of those four children now grandparents whose children are raising their own children. I get pleasure from reliving such a thin slice of life.
It seems to me that Kathleen’s ritual nourished in the minds of our young children respect and appreciation for their father. After all, children should get their first prompts on how they should feel about one parent from the other parent.
I know that life is much more complicated now than during the 1950s. For one thing mother may not be at home, and to get there she may have to leave from work and go first to the daycare to pick up the youngest child. And she may have to carry out this errand as a single parent.
Or a father may not have the luxury of coming home every day or at the same time every day. And when they do, both parents may arrive home frazzled and under pressure to meet the basic needs of a hungry child or two. What parent in such circumstances has time for the niceties?
But I recall that back then in the 1950s we too had our frazzled moments. Four young children are a handful in any home. In our case, the youngest had special needs that demanded great and constant attention.
Moreover, we lived next door to the church building and at times the parsonage could seem like an extension of the church. As well, both of us were greatly involved in the activities of church life. I worked many evening and weekend hours at pastoral tasks; my wife sang in the choir, taught Sunday School and often served meals to visiting speakers or other guests.
So Kathleen carried out this ritual greeting for my homecoming because it was too important to her to neglect. She and I both now think there was something in it that strengthened parent-child bonds on into adulthood, however slight the exercise might seem in the telling.
The memory of that kitchen door greeting comes to mind because Father’s Day cards are being selected in the stores and great numbers of wives and children are wondering what sort of gift to buy for father as June 19 approaches. That search is all to the good. A well-chosen card or a little gift can speak volumes, too.
But Father’s Day is a good time to review the rituals we incorporate intentionally into family life to enrich relationships, quell storms, and reinforce with the vitamins of caring whatever family laws we have.
For the little ones, a ritual like the drama my wife enacted at the door made father’s home-coming both surprising and precious. Even such a simple spontaneous exercise can strengthen bonds between parents and growing children.
So, happy Father’s Day to all fathers who read this. If your children are young, may they greet you not only on Father’s Day but often at the door with a ritual family dance of joy! But, whatever the children’s age, may this day renew your precious family connections.