Bratton Clovelly, Sourton, Germansweek, Trinity 2, Father’s Day, 17/6/2012
My Father worked with his hands. I can picture them vividly now.
He was a car mechanic and his hands were so important to his art and his trade.
Strong hands - lifting heavy engines from their cases, bouncing rubber tyres across greasy garage floors. Hands used for hammering, ratcheting, body panel beating.
I remember his fingers - always stained with dirt, even after a weekend’s scrubbing; the black line behind the fingernails, an ever-present combination of engine oil and road gunge. Fingers which I watched perform the most detailed tasks: adjusting the gap in a spark plug, threading a screw, working a wire through the narrowest of gaps.
One of the thrills of my childhood was being asked by my father to help him in a task, and I would stand ready to pass into his hands the particular spanner he asked for, or to hold two pieces of metal in place while he carefully soldered them together, his hands held rock-steady, for the slightest slip would ruin his careful work.
These were the hands which held me as a baby, teaching me that I was loved; the hands which lifted me onto his shoulders as a toddler, showing me that I was enjoyed. These were the hands through which, occasionally, I learned that I had done wrong: a smack on the legs got the message across. These were the hands which shook mine when I’d achieved something, the hands which hugged me - still hug me today - in greeting and farewell, showing me, without words, that I’m appreciated and cared for.
Can you picture your father’s hands, and consider what they’ve taught you?
Here’s a poem by a friend of mine, Paul Cookson. He says that every word in it is true. It’s called Father’s Hands.
Father’s Hands by Paul Cookson
large like frying pans
broad as shovel blades
strong as weathered spades.
finger ends ingrained with dirt
permanently stained from work
ignoring pain and scorning hurt.
I once saw him walk boldly up to a swan
that had landed in next door’s drive and wouldn’t move.
The police were there because swans are a protected
but didn’t do anything, but my dad walked up to it,
picked it up and carried it away. No problem.
Those massive wings that can break a man’s bones
were held tight, tight by my father’s hands
and I was proud of him that day, really proud.
tough as leather on old boots
firmly grasping nettle shoots
pulling thistles by their roots.
gripping like an iron vice
never numb in snow and ice
nails and screws are pulled and prised.
He once found a kestrel with a broken wing
and kept it in our garage until it was better.
He’d feed it by hand with scraps of meat or dead mice
and you could see where its beak and talons
had taken bits of skin from his finger ends.
It never seemed to hurt him at all, he just smiled
as he let it claw and peck.
lifting bales of hay and straw
calloused, hardened, rough and raw
building, planting, painting ... more.
hard when tanning my backside
On Father’s Day it’s interesting to recall that Jesus wants us to see God as a Father. Not a distant deity up in the clouds, but a father, working with his hands like a sower in a field, the palms of his hands full of tiny grains, which he would take in his fingers and, rubbing those fingers together, would scatter the seeds on the ground. A silent worker, his hands doing all the talking.
This is the same Father whose hands moulded creation; the same Father whose hands led the people of Israel into a Promised Land, the same Father into whose hands Jesus commended his spirit on the cross, the Father whose hands caught him when he fell and lifted him high, higher than any other, into his heavenly kingdom. The very same Father whose hands want to embrace you and nurture you in the ways of his kingdom.
Today, I encourage you to think about your Father’s hands and what they have taught you. And as you do that, consider the hands of God the Father, and what you learn from them; consider yourself the work of his hands. Today, I encourage you to give thanks for all that Fathers teach us, often without words, often with their hands.