When my wife travels, I sleep with a daughter tucked under each arm. Their heads nestle into my neck. Their stray hairs tickle my face. Their knees press insistently into my torso. I angle my head so I can kiss the warm forehead of my eldest (age 8) on the right and my youngest (age 6) on the left. They snuggle closer. I am emotionally at peace and physically in pain. This was easier when they were smaller. This is perfect and uncomfortable. This is fatherhood.
I remember their birth. When I held each of them in my arms for the first time, I wanted to pray for their safety, but I didn’t. My instinctive prayer for my children’s safety would be mostly selfish. Their birth made me vulnerable. I wanted to protect myself from pain or loss. (“Would you rather our children be scared or scarred?” I remember asking my wife in bed one night, months before the birth of our eldest. “Neither,” she replied, quite sensibly. “But, if I had to choose, scarred. I would rather she tried and risked than never tried at all.”) So I prayed that God would be with them, wherever he led them, into safety or into pain. Perfect and uncomfortable.
I remember working with my wife to choose their names. We wanted something that would do more than reverberate pleasantly in the air. So, for both, the names of women who challenged male leaders to trust God’s word and power. For the eldest, the name of a woman freed from spiritual oppression and freed for the first resurrection proclamation, Mary Magdalene (the origin of Madeleine), and the name of ruler who guided the leaders of Israel to trust God, Deborah. For the youngest, a middle name shared with a woman who takes decisive action to enact God’s purposes (however violently), Yael. We also like how their stories are linked – one completing what another has started.
(“Are you going to be the kind of dad who greets potential boyfriends at the door with a gun?” I’m often asked. I think on the names I’ve given my daughters. “No,” I say. “I expect my eldest, like her namesake, will be fully able to thoroughly rebuke a boy who isn’t yet a man. And the youngest, like her namesake, will be fully able to protect herself.” I would enjoy it if her nickname was “Spike," so I anticipate meeting potential suitors at thedoor with a liability waiver, not a gun. Those boys are on their own. That would be perfect, but possibilities for future harm and grief make me uncomfortable.)
I remember countless moments where I have to make choices in front of their watching eyes. Consistently casting vision for their mom’s work, even when it takes her away from home for weeks a year. Curtailing work and sabbatical plans so I can be a father who cooks, cleans, and cares for them when they are sick. Confronting sin (my own – and my sin replicated in their behaviors) and asking for forgiveness. I anticipate countless more moments in the future where I learn to die to self and to serve.
My daughters are the agents of God’s discipleship in my life. Perfect, and uncomfortable.
~ Greg Jao
Greg Jao serves InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA as Senior Assistant to the President. For the majority of his 31 years with InterVarsity (as a student and at IVP and in the field), he has been discipled and supervised by women. He is married to Jennifer (an assistant professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital & Ichan School of Medicine, where her research focuses on HIV mother-child transmission issues) and father to Madeleine Deborah (who is reading her way through the Lunar Chronicles) and Kirsten Yael (who is on her first re-read of Harry Potter.)