The Spirituality of Fatherhood: Connection

Look for “The Spirituality of Fatherhood” every Wednesday.

I have vivid memories of October 31, 2013. I woke up with excitement because that afternoon we were debuting Tabernacle Baptist Church’s first Hallelujah HYPE Night, a Halloween alternative for the community. However, the source of my excitement shifted when I went to the bathroom and I saw my wife bending over the tub in pain. Immediately I knew that her contractions had started. The questions began to flow: Did you call the doctor? What do you need me to do? Do we have everything we need? Sure enough, the doctor called back and told us to head over to the hospital. The time was finally here. We were having a beautiful baby girl named Dakota Aubree Jones.

The truth of the matter is that all my excitement turned into fear. Would I be a good father? Would I know what to do when it doesn’t come naturally to me? Will I disappoint my daughter like the many young ladies I know that have been disappointed by their fathers? A friend of mine told me that the nurses for his son’s birth encouraged him to take off his shirt and let the baby lay on his chest. This would help with the bonding. I was so scared to do this that I told my wife I didn’t want to. It felt awkward and embarrassing and I had a hard time wrapping my mind around what it would take to be a father.

These emotions eventually got the best of me. In addition, my marriage became more challenging and the relationship between Mommy and baby was so tight that it seemed as though there was no room for Daddy. I couldn’t find my place. Participating in any way was challenging. I remember coming home from church and stopping by Target. When I called my wife to ask what we needed, she became agitated. I would wake up in the middle of the night with her to assist with Dakota and she told me I was in her way and to go back to sleep. She was breastfeeding, so even feeding my daughter was something I could not participate in. In addition, I was a full-time pastor, and she was a stay-at-home mother. My daughter’s schedule was built around her mother’s schedule. When I got home, my daughter was asleep. When I went to work. my daughter was asleep. Her mother cleaned her, fed her, clothed her, and ultimately took care of her. I didn’t even bathe my daughter until she was a year and a half!

Now, much of this was my fault. I should have been more intentional and insistent in my involvement in my daughter’s infant and toddler years. I was so emotionally unsure of myself as I father that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I questioned other fathers about how I should approach fatherhood in the context I was in. Most told me to hang in there and allow the situation to play out, that daughters always return to their fathers. This was a mistake. My wife wasn’t going to open the door for me; I should have opened the door myself. However, it is difficult when your daughter cries every time you hold her and wants to go back to Mommy.

Today I write to you as a divorced pastor. The last few years have been very challenging. There were times when I was separated from my daughter for weeks. For a certain period, I was banned from her daycare. Because of the contentious nature of my divorce, the courts got involved and, thankfully, I was granted full access to her daycare as well as joint custody. Now was the time to step up and be the father I always dreamed of being.

Admittedly, this was difficult. I’m always comparing my relationship with Dakota to her mother’s. I’m always concerned that the bond she has with her mother will influence her to not value a bond with me. There is still insecurity in my abilities as a father. I question myself constantly. However, I always remind myself that this journey is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Fatherhood is a commitment I’ve made for the long haul. And if I can just remain faithful to being a father, I’m confident things will work out. God calls us to be faithful and that’s my goal.

Although this has been a difficult process, I jumped in with two feet! Parenting was so much more joyful outside of my dysfunctional marriage and imbalanced parenting relationship. I’m now able to enjoy time with my daughter and learn to be a father with just her and I. Although I don’t recommend this path and still struggle with it theologically, there is no doubt that Dakota and I are in a much better place today than we were a few years ago. Yes, I allow her to stay up too late sometimes. Yes, I probably let her have dessert too many times during the week. However, I have learned what it takes to take care of a young child. I know to buy clothes and shoes one size up so she can grow into them. (Trust me, I learned this the financially difficult way!) I know how to ensure she’s clean, fed, and that she says her prayers before she goes to bed.

I’ve also learned how to personally engage with my daughter. We have fun together. It fills me with joy when we go to the park and she rides her bicycle or plays with other kids in the playground. Our movie and Chuck E. Cheese playdates are the best. I love our Daddy/Daughter holiday photoshoots and the smile on her face when she comes to the church to hang out. Yes, I’ve had to stay up later for sermon preparation. Yes, my schedule is tighter and I have to make significant adjustments. However, the sacrifice is worth it when she says, “I love you Daddy.” There are still co-parenting obstacles and, in many ways, I’m still carving out space in the Mommy/Daddy/Daughter relationship triangle. In addition, my daughter and her mother have moved; so parenting will now be long distance. But my fears have drifted away. My daughter will have her father in her life, and I’ll continue to learn how to parent better every day.

I recently went to my hometown to visit and ran into an old classmate. While we were catching up, he told me about his children and some of the parenting challenges he’s had over the years. His children are older than Dakota, so his perspective was very helpful. In addition, his kids live in Las Vegas and he lives in Los Angeles. I shared with him my fatherly concerns and his response to me was, “If you do your part, everything will work out. Your daughter will see your effort, understand, and will always love you.” This puts the responsibility on me. I must call her every day. I must be consistent in my visits and be there for important milestones. I must ensure she has a relationship with her father’s side of the family. I must take her on vacations and host her properly during summer and winter breaks. These are things I must do. No one can do them for me.

I’ll continue to find joy in Dakota jumping on my back while I’m working on something. I’ll continue to smile when I go to check on her after she has fallen asleep. I’ll still laugh when she wants me to throw her on the bed. I’ll continue to hold her when we watch movies and eat popcorn together. I’ll run by her side when she rides her bicycle around the neighborhood. I’ll still take pictures when we go to the playground. My and Dakota’s journey is not complete. However, today I am more confident in my parenting ability than I was last year. It has changed me for the better.

Dr. Cory L. Jones is Senior Pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Burlington, NJ. He attended school at the University of California, Berkeley, The Interdenominational Theological Center, and the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. He’s from Los Angeles and is a lifelong Lakers fan.

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Comments

  1. Jeanne Wilcox-Rawls says

    God didn’t see fit to give me any biographical children but I’m the stepmother to 4 grown daughters and even that has its challenges at times but I’m so blessed by Pastor Cory’s transparency and honesty. May God forever bless you and your beautiful daughter and new wife!!
    Jeanne Wilcox-Rawls

  2. Sharon Blagmon says

    A beautifully written!

  3. Lena Irish says

    I love this, Cory! You are going to help a lot of fathers with your transparency and honesty about your fears, which I am sure are common. I will definitely share. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful! I wish you and your daughter, Dakota, nothing but happiness!

  5. MARY WESTON says

    I PRAY THE POWER OF WISDOM AND LOVE TO OVERFLOW IN YOUR LIFE. GOD RICHLY BLESS YOU. I WILL CONTINUE TO LIFT YOU IN PRAYER. GOD IS YOUR STRENGTH..

  6. Dr. Clemon says

    Son, I’m so godly proud of you. It takes courage to share sensitive matters such as this. Many men have encountered such an experiences but it takes mature individual to divulge information we don’t want the world we live in to know.

    Someone stated in one of the post that some men will be glad to have read your story. Your story is a testimony. You are an overcomer of what you went through to help someone else make ur through life challenges. You are a blessing to the body of Christ. Continue to stand firm on the Word of God as you continue to move forward in life. Continuously praying for you and your family. I love you very much🥰❤️

  7. I can identify with this as an insecure mom. My daughter now twenty seven ,my fear of parenting robbed me of many of her earlier years .She was handed to her dad at birth I loved the sentiment.Finaly a real father . After I breast fed her he would snuggle her more joy for me to watch. As our relationship failed my daughter became the go between I never knew that would damage her psyche. I’ve learned They need us Whole and healed. So Your story Pastor Cory is our story.Mom or Dad . Pray and ask God for direction .For He knows the plans He has for us all.

  8. Sheena Foster says

    My parents were in their late teens when I was born and they were not married at the time. They eventually got married when I was 4 yrs old, but their relationship was dysfunctional and they had two more kids before divorcing when I was 12 yrs old. Being the oldest was the hardest for me, especially given that my father gained full custody of me and my two siblings and we missed our mom. It was some growing pains for us all, but my dad by far made the best during that transition and I am the woman I am today because my dad invested the time to nurture with love and discipline me when needed. I didn’t know much about your story when I came to visit Tabernacle with my cousin Denise last year, but what I can say for sure is that when your daughter leaped from the floor and into your arms after the culmination of the VBS last month during my last visit, what I was able to bear witness to was an enduring love between a daughter and father that has stood the test of time. I’m looking forward to going home to New Orleans to hug my own father tomorrow. Beautiful reflection. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Cynthia Gayles Franklin says

    Thank you for sharing Pastor Cory. Truly your heart as Dakota’s father will always win even when you will have to discipline her. Your transparency is truly helpful. May God continue bless you as you love, care for and parent Dakota!

  10. Juanita Tard says

    Thank you Pastor Jones for sharing your fatherhood journey. After reading your blog I have no doubt you ware and will always be an awesome daddy to you daughter Dakota. God bless you and your family!

  11. Carol Colston says

    Wonderful article Pastor Cory. Truly spoken from the heart. You are an excellent dad to Dakota and she truly loves you deeply. Keep on doing what you do and God will continue to tighten that daddy daughter bond that no one can come between. I’m so very proud of you!

  12. Natasha Exavier says

    Pastor Cory, this is a phenomenal message to all faithful fathers who is in the same co-parenting boat you’re in. After all the LORD looks at the heart and HE knows the depth of your love for your precious daughter. All you have to do is keep loving her the way you do and the LORD will see you through. Dakota is blessed…❤️

  13. Chris Taylor says

    Excellent article Pastor Cory. Most men don’t recognize, and it is definitely not taught, that there is intrinsic value in fatherhood. It uplifts men as much as it uplifts our child(ren).

    I am immensely proud of you for pushing passed the psychological and tangible restrictions that you either initially encountered or believed or which were forced upon you in order to now secure your relationship with Dakota. You felt like it was worth the effort and now you know for sure. Dakota’s smile, which you can see in her face or hear in voice, has the power to drive out darkness and lift your spirits. And you have the same power in her life.

    Men who take fatherhood seriously are often plagued by doubts and fears about our role as fathers. But we, hopefully, eventually realize they are just another trick of the devil to steal our joy and block our blessings. Glad you fought through, kicked Satan in the teeth and got your daughter. You have developed a strong relationship with Dakota that will overcome time and distance. She KNOWS her Daddy loves her and nothing and no one will change that in her mind. You got this!

  14. Pastor Cory you are a great man and father. I watched you in this process called “Challenges”. From my experience living in a single parent home, I longed to have a bond with my father. It took God to restore our relationship. Through this restoration things became better as we spent time together. People will attempt to destroy the bond, but God will protect what he has put together. I celebrate you today for taking the courage to speak your truth and encourage fathers across the world.

  15. Desiree Medley says

    Pastor Jones great article may God continue to show you the way. A father/daughter love is special and trust me she knows you love her no matter what’s in background. Enjoy your baby girl they grow up fast .

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