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Last month, I got to see my father for the first time since December 2019. I surprised him for his birthday, but the gift was all in my direction.

I know that, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day this coming weekend is fraught for many. I’m saddened by the myriad of ways fathers have failed their children—and the consequences of those failures that reverberate throughout a son’s or daughter’s whole life. So, I acknowledge and lament that reality. 

It makes having a good father something even more worthy of celebration. 

I could not be more blessed with my own. At 84, my dad is a picture of magnanimity. He is a model for me of someone who is completely other-oriented, even as he is completely comfortable with himself and at peace. He is so easy to be around—not cantankerous, but given to figuring out big ways and small to rejoice. Still in excellent health, he remains curious, spending most mornings continuing to read and to learn on a staggering host of subjects. His biggest annoyance: that he can no longer get the newspaper delivered to his house that he started reading as a small boy every morning with my grandfather. And even as we his children struggle with facing up to the inevitabilities of his age, he has worked to put all in readiness: his accounts are in perfect order and easy for us to assume. He has organized the house. And he has clearly communicated everything. What’s most important to my dad is what’s always been important to him: generosity of spirit, humility, and continued striving to live a faithful life. Though I marvel at his graciousness, he still talks about himself as in process.

Whatever I have been able to accomplish in my own life, I owe to the incredible encouragement of my father. I can never remember a time when he did not believe in me—and when he did not do everything he could to support me, including making sure I knew the depth of his love and his great confidence in me. He has celebrated me and propped me up in countless ways. For all of these reasons (and more), I’m especially fond of this poem by the Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet. In her sonnet, Bradstreet explores what I feel so strongly: the unpayable debt she owes her own beloved father. Perhaps it describes your feelings this Father’s Day, too.

Whatever “mite” we can repay in gratitude on Father’s Day, our good fathers will probably modestly protest. We may not know how to repay the love we’ve received, but we do know that it will take a lifetime to understand the rarity of the gift.

To Her Father with Some Verses
By Anne Bradstreet
 
Most truly honoured, and as truly dear,
If worth in me or ought I do appear,
Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came?
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb;
My stock's so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day;
Yet for part payment take this simple mite,
Where nothing's to be had, kings loose their right.
Such is my debt I may not say forgive,
But as I can, I'll pay it while I live;
Such is my bond, none can discharge but I,
Yet paying is not paid until I die.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

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