I’ve spent countless hours of my life pushing children on swings. One of the main duties of fatherhood — along with providing car snacks and making embarrassingly bad puns — is swings. Children have an inexhaustible desire to swing, and I’ve learned over the years that I stop pushing at my own peril. The moment I think my daughter is tiring of it and let her slow down, she starts kicking her chubby little toddler legs and petulantly demands that I get back to work.
Small children at a playground are entirely dependent on dad. The very young ones don’t know how to use the ladders and slides. They must be shown. It’s a time-honored tradition passed on from fathers to children — how to play at the playground. It’s emblematic of how much children need their parents to protect them, provide for them, and guide them. In particular, a father guards childhood.
Soon enough, though, the kids get older, gain independence and test their boundaries. It can be frustrating but it’s only natural. They’re learning to navigate the world on their own, knowing that if a mistake is made, mom and dad will always be there to help. Before parents know it, the kids are all grown up and living independent lives of their own. It’s a difficult transition, but isn’t without its beauty.
As we age, the relationship between parents and children continues to change. I visited my grandfather’s grave last week, and it made me think about how the last few years of his life, as his mind weakened, he needed help from his children and grandchildren. He was a good man, a blessed man, and his children are reflections of his faithfulness. In the end, it was the children who began to care for their father.
It’s within the family that these nurturing qualities come to the fore. Within the family, children grow strong and spread their wings. Later in life, they return the favor by returning that nurturing care to their aging parents. It’s almost as if the strength that each of us has is collectively that of our family. Even when I am weak, we are strong.
I love the generosity of the family. I see that generosity reflected in the Church as well, and it’s such a pleasure to see families with young babies and the way the older parishioners dote on them. The way our older parishioners are taken care of is inspiring. It’s all the strength of our spiritual family.
For years, I’ve stood behind swings and pushed children — six kids and 13 years, to be precise. Last week I was pushing our one-year old, the youngest of the six. I gave her a big push and sat on the swing next to her, quickly becoming lost in thought as I looked up at the clouds. The creak of the chain next to me stopped. Then I felt a little hand on my back. My daughter had wriggled off her swing, come around behind mine, and was pushing me.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.