When I was growing up, we had a plush armchair that was the perfect place for curling up in my dad's lap in the evenings. Afterward, he'd scoop me up in his arms and carry me to bed.
When I was 7 or 8, I thought I was getting pretty big, and I was surprised he could still carry me.
"Daddy, how long are you going to carry me up to bed? Till I'm 10? 12?"
I persisted, wanting assurance that I would never be too big or too old to enjoy that wonderful sense of being loved, comforted, and cared for that I felt when my little hand wrapped around the back of his neck and he wrapped his big arms under me and whisked me off to bed.
I don't remember his answer now, but my question persisted as I grew into adulthood and I began to feel his support - and fear for its eventual loss - in so many other ways.
More than any other person in my life, he had answers to my questions and problems, answers that made sense. When I doubted myself, he would point me to the true source of my ability - God - and I would find there the strength, courage, and persistence I needed to rise to the task at hand.
When I felt mired in confusion and unable to make a tough decision, he would ask one or two incisive questions that would give me a new perspective on the situation and enable me to see clearly what I needed to do. When I would have difficulties with a relationship, he would be able to get at the root issues. That would always enable me to resolve the problem much more quickly.
The more I began to appreciate these things, the more dread I felt from the nagging question, "What will I do when he's not around anymore?"
The answer to this question began to come with a great "conversation" I had with him when I was in college - a conversation in which little was said.
It was a warm spring night, and we were sitting on the soft lawn, leaning back against the rough bark of a tree. I was upset, wrestling my way through a tough spot in a friendship, yearning for comfort and direction to quiet the turmoil I felt. But I was so upset that I didn't know where to begin, and I was too exhausted to try to explain. So I was quiet - and so was he.
Very quickly though, a deep sense of calm came over me - a feeling I've come to recognize as the effect of God-inspired thought. I felt so reassured, so confident God was caring for me right then and there, that all my fear, frustration, and resentment about this troubled friendship dissolved. I felt forgiveness toward my friend, and a renewal of affection for him.
After about half an hour of quiet time together, I thanked my dad and we walked back inside. He hadn't told me what to do or what to think, or whether he thought I was justified for being upset with my friend's actions. He didn't sympathize or analyze. He just prayed, he told me later.
Looking back, I realize that we were both being fathered that night.
God impelled him to pray for me, and guided him to see that our common Father was providing all I needed. And God comforted me in a way that was so much more profound than any human affection could have been.
This experience helped me realize that those wonderful qualities of fatherhood that I felt as a little girl in my dad's arms - and that I now feel in deeper ways - are really not from the physical person I recognize to be my human father. Rather, they're divine qualities that I've gotten to know better through that wonderful relationship, but are not at all limited to it.
This has enabled me to see not only that these qualities will continue to be a part of my life forever, but also that they're universal and are blessing every individual around the world.
In the face of high divorce rates, poverty, natural disasters, and conflicts such as the war in Iraq - all of which disrupt families - there certainly is a need for more good fathering. But the great news is that whether our human father is around or not, our heavenly Father is always with us, loving us, providing the stability, guidance, comfort, and support that we need and deserve as His beloved children.
The eternal God is thy refuge,
are the everlasting arms.