I have just kissed my husband goodbye, closed the door, and am getting the children started on their various morning tasks when I hear a little one wail, low but loud. "Who's crying?" I ask. It is Jude, the two-year-old; he hears me and quiets down. I can't pinpoint where he is. "Jude," I call, and he answers me calmly. I find him in his bed, under the covers. He smiles as if we were merely playing a game of hide and seek, and he reaches for me and hugs me. But as soon as I am holding him he asks, "Where my dad?"
I tell him, "Daddy's at work." He says, "No." He is quiet and keen. He wraps his arms around my neck, and I get the sense that I am holding a tiger cub with fierce blue eyes. "I want Daddy," he says to me.
He used to cling to me because I was his life, his first love. Now he clings to me because I bring him to Daddy.
And I’m okay with that.
I could get weepy at the thought that Mama is not his favorite person anymore, but I don’t. In moments like this one, I am keenly aware of how a mother is the bridge between a child and his father.
In a sense, a mother introduces a child to his father. Jude has known me since before his birth—my scent, the sound of my heartbeat, the sound of my voice. As a baby he knew me in a way he did not know any other human being. In fact, to him, mommy (and everything else) was just an extension of “me.” Even when he started to understand people as separate from him, it was I who was most acceptable to him. After a few months, like my other children, he came to the point when, my husband says, our babies “start to like him a little bit,” giving up Mommy for a while to go play with Dad.
When Jude began to transfer some of his affection to my husband, he was learning to turn some of his self-love toward another. In a very real way, he was getting primed to love his heavenly Father.
In the family, as Pope John XXIII said, “the father stands in God’s place.” Human fathers, in their biology, their role in the family, their love for their children, take their fatherhood from God, the first and true Father. God imparts something of his own likeness to men—different from the “something” he imparts to women—to make them reflect him. When I show my child, at birth and in our family life, who his father is, I show him his first image of God the Father.
I know all of this; perhaps it runs as an undercurrent in my thoughts as I hold and hear my boy.
But this is not some theological abstraction wrapped around my neck. There is a simplicity and a breathtaking beauty in a two-year-old boy’s love. It is a glimpse of why Jesus called his own Father Abba, “Daddy,” and why he said a child’s heart is needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In witnessing the love of my two-year-old for his father, I can only wonder at what a privilege is mine.
I am blessed to share this job of parenthood with an exceptional man, one who is devoted to me and to the children we have welcomed together. He teaches his children respect, perseverance, duty, fight—but also joy, tenderness, exuberance, and compassion. He works hard to provide for them. He teaches them what it means to be man—human and (especially for my boys' example) male, in God's image. He helps me build for them a little world of their own, to be their school of love, and he protects it.
I see my son’s world open up more every day. I see his precious, inimitable heart growing into it. I have only dimly looked upon the days when I will have to open my arms and let it grow far beyond me. But my highest duty as his mother is to do just that.
To teach him to offer his heart wholly to the One to whom he belongs even more than to my husband and me.
The truth is that no matter how well or deeply I love my son, I cannot possibly love him better or more fiercely than his Heavenly Father does. And so, because I love him well, I will gradually help him let go of me and attach his heart elsewhere. First, his daddy. Always, his Abba.
This was first written exactly two years ago. Jude loves his daddy more than ever.