Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Prayer For My Son

I’m a career military man.  Although that fact isn’t supreme, it’s definitely one of the few things that serves to define me.  As I’ve spent my entire adult life in the military as a professional, I’ve appropriately spent the better part of that adult life studying my profession.  This study includes the lives and work of other military men, their leadership qualities and how they exercised that leadership during their careers.  As a result, my education has caused me to cross the historic path of General Douglas MacArthur.  Recently I found myself looking at his work again, and was reminded that my first contact with some of General MacArthur’s work was in my childhood.

At some point, I presume during his military career, General Douglas MacArthur penned a prayer for his son, Arthur.  His family made this prayer public when he died in 1964, the same year I was born.  I don’t know when my father bought a copy of it, but for as long as I can remember a small, plain, framed version hung on my bedroom wall.  When the time came for me to head out on my own, it went with me.  Here is the prayer General MacArthur penned for his son:
Build me a son, O Lord,
who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
brave enough to face himself when he is afraid,
Build me a son,
whose wishes will not take the place of deeds...
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort,
but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenges.
Let him learn to stand in the storm;
let him learn compassion for those who fall.
Build me a son,
whose heart is clear, whose goals will be high
a son who will master himself before he seeks to master others;
who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray,
enough of a sense of humor
so that he may always be serious
yet never take himself too seriously...
Then, I, his father will dare to whisper,
"I have not lived in vain."
This powerful statement was also attributed to General MacArthur:
“By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact,” MacArthur said. “But I am prouder – infinitely prouder – to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build, the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battlefield but in the home, repeating with him our simple daily prayer, Our Father Who Art in Heaven…” (See Cheryl Davis’ Art Blog at http://bymyart.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/macarthur-on-being-a-soldier-and-a-father/)
My Prayer For Paul
Not to simply mimic him out of some odd professional courtesy, I also pray for my son.  I think Douglas MacArthur (the man and father) set a good and respectable example.  When I’m home I pray daily with Paul, at a minimum at least once when Stephanie and I put him to bed.  My prayer is formed by my faith and my experience of fatherhood, from the time we knew Stephanie had conceived, through the pregnancy, Paul’s birth, and then the years that have followed.  It reflects my admittedly reformed and orthodox faith and flows from the heart.  Here is what I pray nightly with Paul, and for him even when I’m not home:
Lord God,
Thank You for the gift of my son,
and for the privilege of being his parents.
I pray You guard and guide Paul tonight.
Teach him to know You and love You
through us and the church,
and to know how much You love him.
I also pray he always knows how much we love him,
not just through our words, but also our deeds.
Give Stephanie and I the wisdom to raise him well
and in a manner pleasing to You.
If it’s Your will,
preserve us through the night
so we can wake tomorrow to see each other again,
either here or by Your side.
The prayer is generally constant but isn’t formulaic.  These aren’t the specific words, memorized and recited precisely, although I generally cover this same ground every night.  Perhaps in a later posting, for those who are interested, I’ll walk through the prayer to explain how and why I’ve settled on the words in it.

As for that small, framed copy of General MacArthur’s prayer for his son, it now hangs on my son’s bedroom wall, just as it did on mine when I was a child.
I know some of you who read this may not be Christians, or even religious or spiritual.  I understand, but this is a glimpse into what makes me tick, as a man, a husband, and as a father.  And for what it’s worth, at risk of unintentionally offending someone out there, it’s my prayer that all of us who are or will be dads one day, that we’re genuinely good and faithful dads.  Not because we say or think we are, but because when it’s all said and done, others around us, including our kids say we were.  Even with all our flaws.  This fatherhood gig is huge, complicated, thrilling, scary at times, and frankly just plain amazing.
It’s great to be a dad!

(The photo of General MacArthur is in the pubic domain.  See http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/ac00001/ac02413.jpg)