I finished work after ten tonight, walked through my front door a half hour later and found my entire family asleep. I had missed everything important. I missed homework, I missed dinner with my family, I missed kissing my wife good night and I missed tucking my three kids in. I could have slept somewhere else and they would never know, not until morning.
I should have been home.
My beautiful, bright seven year-old Gabriel is struggling with school. My younger kids spend most nights watching television while I work and my wife slogs through swamps of consonants and vowels with Gabriel. I yell too much, the house is a mess and my younger son Julian recently asked me why I work so much. I didn't have an answer that would make sense to a four year-old.
Truth be told, I didn't have an answer that would make sense to a forty year-old either. I don't know how to explain the truth: I don't know what I'm doing. I'm winging this fatherhood thing. I don't have a plan.
But when I'm in danger of turning completely into a self-pitying, living embodiment of a Harry Chapin song, I think about James Kim.
Even before Father's Day got this close, I thought often about the tragic father who spent nine days stranded with his family in the Oregon wilderness before setting out on an ill-fated quest to find help. I wonder about his brave family and I pray that they're healing. But I almost never think about the mistakes that were made or the opportunities sorrowfully missed. I think about the overwhelmed father who, when caught in real, deadly circumstances, made the decision to get out of the car and walk for help. And when I think about him doing that, I love him as much as a man can love a man he never met.
On Father's Day, my family will give me a present. They will talk about what a great father I am and I'll accept it all with the grateful smile of someone who has kept his secret for one more year. I'll think about you other fathers on Sunday, too. But for me, Father's Day is James Kim Day.
James Kim taught me what being a father really means. It means that when you're overwhelmed, terrified and on the verge of despair, you don't give up. No matter what the consequences are, you get out and walk.