The Road From Dad to Papa

This morning, for some reason, it occurred to me there are now more people in this world who call me “Papa” than call me “Dad.” As a matter of fact, the ones who used to call me Dad now call me Papa as well. I guess there isn’t anyone left who calls me Dad. In some ways, I find that a bit sad. I always enjoyed being “Dad.”

That’s not a lament, however. I’m perfectly content with being known as Papa. In fact, that moniker brings me a great deal of joy. I guess I’ve just moved down life’s road a bit further. So, Papa it is.

I remember the moment I first realized I had become the patriarch of our little clan. It was the day following my youngest son’s wedding. We all gathered in our rented beach house for a time of Sunday worship as a family. As I looked around the room, it hit me. I’m now the old man—the leader of the pack (for better or for worse). My own Mother and Father were gone. I was the one left standing.

We have a picture hanging on our wall memorializing that day. It was taken on the beach following worship. We were all wearing blue jeans and white shirts. Apparently that was the uniform of the day. Each time I glance at that photo, I remember my new station in life.

With the transition from Dad to Papa, I realize that most of the good (or harm) I will do to these following generations of the Zuchelli tradition has already been accomplished (especially for the adult ones). I’ve already helped them become the men and women they will be. I’ve either built up their personae or helped to screw them up. I sincerely hope it’s the former.

“We only get a few years…”

We only get a few years to nurture these malleable young souls, and we need to make the best of it. Thinking back on those times, I’m amazed they turned out so well. Each one of them has become an adult of whom I can be proud to call son or daughter. I guess I’ve won my Papa bragging rights.

Years ago, folk singer Pierce Pettis recorded a frightening song he entitled “Absalom.” The haunting lyrics are written from the perspective of King David of Israel. Absalom was his rebellious son who attempted to usurp the throne while his Dad was still occupying it. On this track, David explains that it’s his fault Absalom turned out the way he did because of the evil he had perpetrated while Absalom was growing up. One of the most excruciating lines states, “All the vanity, cruel arrogance, and greed… Oh Absalom, you learned it all from me.”

The story of David and Absalom (1 Samuel 15:1-14 ff.) should be a reminder to all of us that we each have a part to play in the lives of others—particularly the young. Use your “Dad time” well. You’ll be a Papa soon.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]


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