I am a father, but perhaps not in a traditional sense. My firstborn son, Mateo Aslan Wise, was born stillborn December 18, 2015. When I learned I would be a father last summer, I was excited, nervous, and full of joy and love. I had big dreams for my son, and for the relationship we would share together. I wanted him to know the Jesus I followed and love people. So when my wife and I learned Mateo no longer had a heartbeat, we were devastated and more than our son died that day, but our dreams as well. In my own blog, I have written many times that Mateo has made me a better man. He made me a better husband, inspired me to be a father, a good father, and to love others well. Where had I turned to for learning about fatherhood? I looked to Luke 15:11-32, and I had planned on reading my son the story of the prodigal son and the father the day of his birth. The story tells of a son who asks for his inheritance, basically wishing his father’s death, and he takes his money and goes to a far away land and squanders his money. He ends up in a pigpen feeding pigs, longing to eat their food, as he lives in total ruin as a result of his own choices. Then the son thinks to himself, if he returns to the father, perhaps the father will hire him as a servant, and at least he will have food and shelter. So the son goes and while he is a ways off in the distance, the father sees him, and runs to him. He puts his robe around his son, and places a ring on his finger. He kills the fatted calf, and has a party because his son who was dead to him lives. He doesn’t let his son apologize and accepts him back, not as a servant but as a son.
This story is so moving to me because much of my life I have identified with the son who left his father’s house. I have wandered far from God, from my own family at times, and done horrible things to myself. But again and again, I have found a loving father, God, who runs to me to accept me back into the family, into the kingdom of heaven. The past 9 months, I thought a lot about what it means to be a father. Does it simply mean my DNA is passed on to this little baby? Does it mean I stay at home with my son and raise him? Does it mean I am provider, a caregiver, a parent, a role model, someday a friend? Yes to all of those things, but to me, being a father means being a good father, the kind of father I see in Luke 15. It means modeling my life after Jesus, striving to love my son perfectly, like the Heavenly Father, and running to my son when he returns.
While my son no longer lives, and while I find it strange to think of myself as a father as I have no diapers to change, no bottles to feed to a baby, and no one to hold until they fall asleep, I am proud of my son Mateo. I love him very much. He has inspired me to continue seeking to learn what true and perfect fatherhood is about from the God and Father of Jesus. Mateo inspires me to be the best man I can be, the father I want to be, and a man after God’s own heart. It may be many years until my son greets me in heaven, but as he has made me proud, I hope to make him proud with how I treat other people, and how I am a father to any future siblings he might have.
Love is what it means to be a good father. Love is what my son has given to me, and what I give to him. I love you Mateo.