Of all mysteries in the world, I find fathers to be the most fascinating. Sherlock Holmes could solve murders with wit, intuition and a few simple facts. Fathers, however, are not simple and are not facts. They are men, and men are mysteries. This tells you a great deal about my relationship with my father.

Our history is a vivid one, enlivened by many memories and few words. His role in my life has changed many times. As a child, he was my father, but from a distance. He and my mother divorced when I was 2 and, to avoid a legal battle, he left me at his parents’ house until I was 8. At 8, I flew across country to Hawaii to live with him and his new wife and new child. During this time he was closer to me, but the Navy called him away frequently and thus, he was still a father of distance. During high school he was my supporter, driving me to and from volleyball practices. When I was away at college he was a stranger, battling through tremendous personal struggles. For a time it frustrated me that he was not the perfect father. I grew up, though, and now we have lunch together every few weeks like friends do.

It will always be the weakness of the son to imagine a perfect role for his father and then have to struggle through the imperfections of the relationship. A relationship with a father is sublime because it is often the epic of strong things grown from hard ground. Fathers, men, are not purveyors of elegance. They are meant to be strong in love, made heroes by their miscues and their courage.

My dad has never gone to war. He has been in the military during times of war. Yet, he has been spared the fierce weight of a weapon. As I see it, he has my respect for what he has done in our family. The battlefield is for warriors, the family is for men. Anyone can fire on an enemy. Anyone can incite within themselves hatred toward wickedness and act thereon. It is natural for men to fight against evil. 

But to love a family, to confess failure to a son, to sacrifice for a wife, these are epic callings whose fortitude goes beyond battlefields and bullets. They go beyond our natural inclinations, and this is why a man only becomes such when he quenches that primal instinct to remain a mystery even to himself. To love nakedly, to confess openly, to give unquestioningly, these are the accolades of all time. My dad might make a good solider; I will never know. Yet I am sure of this: He is a good man.

Our lunches came at the perfect time. If I was any younger, I would be too afraid to grow with him while we sat and ate. Now that I am older, I can savor knowing my father with truer affection. Though there are times when I wish the process would move faster, I believe that fathers are best understood by the months and years that you spend with them and not just the moments. The zenith of intimacy is the sweetness of passing time. This is love, and I love my father. As we slowly open, I am strengthened.

James R. Duran lives in Lakeland, Fla., and graduated with an M.Div. from Bethel Seminary in San Diego. This excerpt is from his upcoming autobiography, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers and Friends.