Five years ago, during my summer as a camp counselor, I discovered I had within my untested vocal cords the “Dad” voice. The final day of the last week of camp came at last, and parents bumped their minivans up the gravel road. The parents (who, a few nights ago, the campers could not imagine living without for another homesick minute) had to wrestle their children away from new friends and into the confinement of the backseat and the long drive home.
I remember one mother attempting to corral her son, who was determined to expend every last upside down second of monkey-barred bliss. After a few minutes of bargaining and cajoling, she looked at me and shrugged plaintively. Now, that summer had taught me many things, among them the “Dad” voice. So, in my best drill sergeant, I barked: “JOHN.” John swung down from the monkey bars and walked over to his mother, who was looking at me like I had just pulled her six of diamonds from an intact navel orange.
At camp five years ago, I learned that I possessed the “Dad” voice, but it was not until last week at the same camp that I discovered I really, truly want also to be the Dad behind the voice. Sure, I’ve always wanted to have kids in that vague procreative instinct sort of way. Last week, however, awoke within me the deep, abiding notions that God might call me to Fatherhood and that I might actually be okay at the whole Dad thing.
This realization hit me Wednesday at lunch. I sat down next to a boy who is going into the third grade. He looks exactly like the boy in Finding Neverland, and he melted the hearts of all the female counselors at camp (and, to be honest, mine too). On his plate, he had arranged two pieces of bread (white), a tub of peanut butter (creamy), and a tub of jelly (apple flavored). For a few minutes, he stared at these ingredients, but they remained inanimate, a Cézanne from his sandwich period. Then the boy looked up at me, and I looked down at him. “Would you like me to make your sandwich?” I asked.
“Yes, please.” And he grinned and nodded his freckled face ostentatiously and a hundred miles away his mother (I am sure) felt the tremors of his good manners.
I pushed my plate out of the way and slid his over. Then I picked up one slice of bread and spackled on the peanut butter. Next came a moment of indecision. I looked solemnly at the boy. “Do you want me to spread the jelly on top of the peanut butter or on the other piece of bread?”
He giggled. Apparently, my question was that of a naïve apprentice. “The other piece.” I spread the jelly and stacked the slices of bread. Then another moment of indecision and a further necessary question: “Rectangles or triangles?”
“Triangles,” came the firm response. “Four, please.” I twice cut the sandwich diagonally and slid the plate back to him — four little tea sandwiches, but without the cucumber or pretension.
With both hands, he picked up a sandwich quarter and nibbled the edge like a chipmunk. Then he took a big bite, and my anxiety that I would be a deficient sandwich maker released. Now, this event might seem small and ordinary, and in a way it was. But small and ordinary do not preclude God from revealing God’s hopes for us. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In my case, this was neither small nor ordinary for two reasons. First, until last Wednesday, I had never made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before. Yes, I know how strange that is. I don’t like cake either. And second, I had never made a sandwich for a child who potentially could be mine (if I had been more stupidly adventurous in high school).
These two reasons mixed with the ordinariness of the situation and God infused the whole thing with revelation. As I watched the boy eat his PB&J, I knew in that place that knows before your mind does that I want to be a Dad. I want to know the kind of love that I see in my father’s eye when he welcomes me after a long absence. I want to play catch and praise scribbles and help do long division and frighten potential suitors and change diapers. Well, maybe not that last one. I’ll get there when I get there. I know that my image of fatherhood is still gilded with romanticized glitter. I know that not everything is picnics and ice cream. But I also know that the sacredness of a PB&J sandwich crafted with love puts more points in the “pro” column than anything could match in the “con.”
You might be thinking: why are you writing about this? Is there something you’re not mentioning? Don’t fret. I am either a series of well-planned, time-consuming steps or one really dumb decision away from being a father. And the former is the only option I’ll ever consider. There are just moments in our lives — small, ordinary moments — that make us realize certain things. God reveals God’s goodness in such moments. Last week, making a sandwich unlocked the door to Fatherhood in my future. What will it be today? I don’t know, but I pray for the attentiveness that helps me resonate with God’s hopes for me. I pray for something small and ordinary. I pray for PB&J.