I met a father once at a mission hospital in Africa. Unfortunately, I met him after he had traveled for hours to bring his wife to the hospital because of complications with her labor and delivery. Despite his efforts, and as tragically occurs so much more commonly in resource-limited countries, his wife died en route to the hospital while his newborn daughter survived. Unable to care for a newborn at home, the Sisters at the hospital said that they would care for the child until she was a little older. Every day that he could make arrangements with his job and with the responsibilities for his other children at home, he would come to the hospital to see his daughter. Specifically, he would leave at 6 A.M. and walk until noon to spend just an hour or so with the infant. He would then have to leave to walk home before dark to be with his other children. Never complaining, always kind and thankful to the Sisters, he made these trips until he was able to make arrangements for his child’s care at home.
This man joins the fraternity of role models to all around them regarding what it means to be a good father. Every time I start to grumble to myself about some minor inconvenience my own children have caused me, I think of this man…and then shut up. He, like most such fathers, certainly didn’t think twice about the hardships he endured to be with and care for his children, and certainly did not consider himself an example to others.
So much effort in mission medicine is spent thinking about and dealing with how things are different; different cultures, diseases, treatments, expectations, and resources. People like this man make us turn and reflect on how so many things are also the same. The blessing of a good father is the same anywhere in the world, and they are examples across cultures and continents as to how the rest of us should approach this honored responsibility.
Dr. Tim Cavanagh