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A True Father's Day Story

Johann Christoph Arnold

Available languages: Español


Deep down, every parent knows that bringing up a child entails more than providing for them. It’s a rare father or mother who won’t readily admit that they “really ought to spend more time” with their children. Yet it’s just as rare to find parents who are willing not only to make such a recognition, but also to carry their good intentions into deeds. Dale, who used to work for one of the largest law firms in the world, is one such parent.

About ten years ago, a colleague and I were driving home from a Cub Scout pinewood derby competition…While the van-full of boys played and laughed in the back seats, he cleared his throat and broached a difficult subject. “Dale, you are making a big mistake by leaving the law firm. Do you realize that?” He was referring to my decision to give six months notice of my resignation. “It’s not like you can just do whatever you want,” he continued. “You have five children. You have a duty to give them the best life possible and to send them to the best universities they can get into. You are shirking your duty.”

I let a few moments pass. Finally, I replied. “It wasn’t my idea. I never intended to cut back to less than twenty hours per week. My daughters pleaded that I quit.”

It was true. For the last two years I had balanced twenty hours per week as a lawyer with an equal amount of time serving men dying of AIDS and cancer. This was a dramatic change from my life as a lawyer who lived on airplanes, opening accounts all over the country and working eighty to ninety hours a week. But then the Gulf War hit. My part-time legal work suddenly exploded, and soon I was back to my old schedule.

About six weeks into this reversion, my sixth grade daughter disappeared from school: she simply wasn’t there one afternoon when we went to pick her up. We looked for her for over two hours and finally contacted the police. Later she was found by a friend walking alone on a roadside, crying. Her explanation was simple: “Dad, when you were gone all the time, it didn’t matter. But now I’ve gotten used to you being here, and I can’t take it. I want you to quit being a lawyer.”

First I tried to get my ninth grade daughter to talk some sense into her younger sister, but it didn’t work. She agreed with her completely. Then I put it all down on paper for them to contemplate – to show them just how stiff the economic consequences would be: pay for your own clothes, car, gas, insurance, yearbooks, prom, college, trips, etc. It didn’t matter. My daughters wanted me

My colleague was bringing the van to a stop at a red light. “Look,” he said impatiently. “You’re shirking your responsibility!” A few moments passed before I sealed the discussion. It seemed too important to finish quickly. I was focusing on a clump of trees that refused to fall in line, refused to be controlled, refused to be cut down and processed at the corporate mill.

“I disagree,” I told him gently. “I disagree. And I bet, in your heart of hearts, that you do, too.”

From Their Name is Today.

Sculpture by Ruth Bloch, "Fatherhood" Ruth Bloch, Fatherhood
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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