I remember the day like it was yesterday. November 9, 1995. My wife had just given birth to our first, and as it turned out, only child. A stout little red-headed boy. We named him Nathan, which means "Gift from God." As the nurse placed him in my arms, I looked into his eyes, as he looked back into mine. And at that moment, my heart exploded with emotion and I was bound inseparably to this precious soul that God had entrusted to my wife and I. As tears streamed down my face, I said my first words to him, which I'll remember till my dying day: "Hello, little man."
That was nearly 20 years ago, and I can honestly say we named him correctly. In every way, he has been a gift and a blessing, and has become my absolute joy in life.
Every father I know prays his son will grow up to be a better man than he is. And as he prays that prayer, he also prays that God will give him the wisdom and the patience to raise him, hoping that his meager efforts, poured out with love, will produce something even more than what he's invested.
Over the years, our relationship has morphed from father to coach to counselor to friend. We've wrestled together, played together, fished together, hunted together, hiked together, occasionally argued, and rarely fought.
A friend of mine has compared Nathan to a Labrador Retriever. It's hard not to love a Lab. They're always good-natured, full of fun and mischief, and tend to make you happy just by being around. If you've ever been around a Lab, you'll understand what I mean. It's the rare person who meets Nathan and takes the time to get to know him who doesn't end up loving him to death.
His two great loves in life are music and dogs. He's got a gift with music, and plays trumpet, guitar (self-taught), and just about anything else he decides he wants to play. We suspect he'll find a way to make his living in a music-related field. And dogs - he's got a way with dogs too. I've never seen a dog he couldn't make up to. Give him half an hour and even the most skittish dog will be on its back and wagging its tail.
Nathan's generous to a fault and has one of the most tender and compassionate hearts I've seen. He loves with an openness and a tenderness that few possess. He hurts deeply when others hurt. As a result, hurting people find a friend in Nathan.
My son's not perfect, but then none of the rest of us are either. He's faced some challenges over the last few years and I've watched him go through some things I wouldn't want anyone to have to go through. But he's faced it all with courage, grace and dignity. Being a good man is not about being perfect (as my Dad always said, "They killed the only perfect man.") Being a good man is defined more by how you face your failures and what you make of them. Nathan's doing a better job of that than I would have.
Nathan is a gift from God, but he's also a child of God. A few years ago I had the privilege of baptizing him when he gave his life to the Lord. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I count being a father as one of the greatest joys of my life. Over the last 20 years, I've watched that baby that nurse placed into my arms as he's grown from a little wriggling giggler into a full-grown man. And now, looking back, my heart is full as I realize that my prayer all those years has been answered tenfold. Nathan is one of the finest men I know, and in many ways, he's a better man than I am. There are few people I trust more and who I'd more want to have on my side in a pinch. I've treasured every precious minute with him and look forward to watching him make his way in the world, marry and raise a family of his own. With his heart, he'll be a wonderful husband and a great father.
Proverbs 23:24 says "The father of a righteous son will rejoice greatly, and one who fathers a wise son will delight in him." I delight in you, Nathan, and couldn't love you more!