A few weeks ago one of my girlfriends asked me to pray for her husband. They were getting back some major test results and she was worried he might be critically ill. He wasn’t. Thank God. But what she said on the phone about the possibility stayed with me. She said, “I feel bad for thinking this. But there’s just so many things he does. I don’t know what I would do without him.”

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I knew immediately what she meant. I do not know what day the trash goes out. I hate driving anywhere I do not have to. And the concept of working full time and not being with my kids, makes me sadder than I have the words to express. In a word, husbands and dads do so much. But most of the time it goes unseen.

There is something about a mother’s work that is just more visible. First of all, our greatest work is literally labor. It is a moment when we are rightly surrounded by accolades and encouragement for bearing a child. And all of our day to day tasks, the kissing of boo-boos, the middle school PTA, and the preparing for college dorm rooms are so out in the open.

But the work of fathers is so often quiet and invisible. They get up in the morning, they go to work, and they feel incredibly responsible for the well-being of their families. This is what fathers do, with relentless repetition. Most fathers do not have piles of folded laundry to their names. But they have children who are fed and cared for with such regularity, that the entire family can easily forget all of the fatherly work that supports their ease of life.

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I realize that this is not everyone’s version of fatherhood. I know that there are plenty of families that do not look like mine. I grew up with two parents who worked full time. And my father did all of the cooking. Although it should be said that he did it with a kind of testosterone infused gusto that was distinctly Dad. It was my father that drove the car on all of our road trips. My father was the one who taught us how to throw a ball. And when huge storms would hit in the Mississippi afternoons of my childhood, it was my father who would stand out on the front porch and yell at us to stay in the hallway.

Plenty of families do not have fathers. Both of my parents were raised by widows. My mother’s mother lost two husbands in one lifetime. And so, I was raised with the kind of independence you encourage in a daughter, when you know she could unexpectedly find herself alone. The fact of the matter is that when we do not have fathers and husbands around, we learn to live without them. I can remember my grandmother teaching me how to open a stuck jar by hitting the lid against the edge of the kitchen counter. “Be mindful you don’t crack the glass,” she warned. And all of these years later, I realize that it is something she had to teach herself because there was no husband around to do it for her.

In our household, not only does my husband open the jars, he dutifully sweeps and vacuums the kitchen floor when I accidentally drop a glass. It is just one of those things that Daddy does. Like making grilled cheese sandwiches and pulling out splinters.

women at warIn our current culture, it can feel like the role of the father is off limits to praise. Many television shows and commercials portray fathers as inept court jesters. In fact, the only time the family patriarch gets any positive airplay is when he is doing tasks that women have traditionally assumed. You know the commercials: Dad lovingly makes sandwich or fixes his daughter’s hair. So the politically correct zeitgeist tells us fathers are only valuable for their comedic stupidity or their magical ability to diaper a snuggly infant. And since women are now legally sanctioned to do most everything that men do, one begins to wonder, what is the point of fathers anyway? What real value do they have?

On the morning of May 29th, 2016, there was a shooting in our neighborhood. It is so recent that I have no details to share. I simply know that a man came onto the streets where our kids play and our neighbors chat, and he began shooting people at random. Friends called and told me to take the kids inside. I hustled my 2 and 5-year-old upstairs and immediately began to move furniture. We have doors with huge windows and I knew I needed to block them. I made a game out of telling the kids to stay low to the ground and just kept silently praying that no bullets would make it to our house. There were helicopters overhead for hours. Neighbors a street over texted to say they had heard gunfire. I just kept trying to speak to the children in calm, sweet tones while I handed out goldfish crackers and crayons.

My husband was not there. He pastors a church up the road and could not get past the barricades to get home to us. So we sat there and talked about him a lot. My older child kept asking me when he would be home exactly and my toddler kept singing “Daddy,” as though to remind us that he was missing. I just lied to both of them, “Daddy will be home soon!” I repeated for 2 hours.

The thing is, we did not really need him to do anything. I brought the children upstairs, I moved the furniture, and I did my best to keep everything calm. But we all knew we needed him to be Daddy. We needed him to be there and to be bigger than us and to make us, even naively, feel safer about our circumstances. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of being the only parent in the house. It was just that we needed a Daddy there too.

People are asking very difficult questions about gender and expectations these days. And I understand all of the reasons behind the conversation. We want women to feel like they can work, if they feel so inclined. We want men to stay home with the children, if that is their true calling. But in the midst of that, let us not lose sight of the remarkable role that is Father. They are often silent, mostly thankless, and endlessly sacrificial. It is their presence and strong love that we just assume we will always have. And on most days we are lucky enough to take it for granted.