I had just been on the school’s New Zealand ski trip with 36, grade 11 and 12 students. The kids were amazing and the staff I went with were magnificent. I was tired, weary and worn out by the end though.
But just for a moment, look at the faces on my two youngest sons in this photo at my arrival home.
What do you see?
It could just be another photo, but I see so much more.
I am beginning to see my sons’ hearts. I am beginning to hear their hearts.
My middle son is the one on the far right. He’s the one going through the middle school years. He’s the one whose emotions can get the better of him. I am the Dad who can let his emotions get the better of him when dealing with that middle school attitude.
Before I left, his hair was long. It went over his eyes and down the back of the neck. It was forever in his eyes and when he played basketball, it was forever being pulled off his face. I wanted to yell, “Stop worrying about your hair and worry about defense!” And out of the blue, he got his mum to shave it all off before I got home. This was his moment when I got home.
He didn’t want to know about my trip. The stories I could tell about me carving up the slopes of New Zealand! He didn’t want to know about that. He wanted to show off his new haircut. He wanted me to run my hand through it. He wanted approval. And I gave it to him.
My youngest son is the one lovingly with his arms around my neck. He got incredibly sick 3 days before I got home. Vomited twice. In his words, “Dad, my no-vomit streak has ended.” He just wants to be around me. Quality time solves a myriad of problems with this one. He does love the little presents I bring home, but he prefers my presence.
He loved the Facetime chats at the ski fields while he was sick. I took him outside the cafes and showed him the snow and the runs he could do when he hopefully gets to snowboard again one day. He was lying at home sick and all he wanted to do was touch my snow beard and go for a snowboard while his Dad skied beside him as we did last year.
This article was due to the editor 3 days ago, the day I got home. I was going to start it that night, but I just couldn’t. I even told my youngest I had to get started. His response, “Dad, can your article be about me?” It’s taken me a few days to know what to write about, but this photo says it all for me. His arms holding me tight, but not too tight. His head nestled against mine. The smile of contentment that Dad is home. The smile of enjoyment knowing he gets to shave my snow beard off!
The older I get and the more I work on my relationship with God, the more I begin to understand how God relates to me, but how I relate to God. I shared many stories with my students over the week in the snow. I am very close to a number of them. All bar one of the 36 on that trip I have taught in the last 5 or 6 years.
It’s hard not to get close to the students when you and the other staff are the “parents” for the week. You let your guard down and share stories with them; they share stories with you. You let them know what you do as a family and how you parent your own kids. It’s heartbreaking when students say, “I wish my family was like that,” or “I wish my Dad would do that for me/with me.”
And so what does God require of me as a Dad? And what can God do for these students without Dads or Dads they struggle with? The Bible offers this challenge to me as a Dad, husband and teacher:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
They both wanted me to put them to bed that night. “Pray for me, Dad,” they both asked. I lay down beside them and prayed.
And I heard the heart of my sons.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found at