I have a box on my shelf that contains precious treasures of my fallen son. Tucked neatly inside are some hand-written letters, drawings of castles and dragons he gave me, his wallet filled with tattered bills he worked so hard to save, a spiral binder with stories he wrote and his financial accounting of the iPod apps he purchased and his goals to save for new ones. This box is also home to the flower I wore at his funeral, a stuffed animal he gave me for Valentines, his favorite soap he was no longer able to smell and wished so badly he could, and other things that remind me of him. That box has precious treasures that I will carry with me until my dying day.

And while I treasure those things deeply, they are not the subject of my affections but merely symbols of them. They point to a little soul that I was blessed to raise for a season. Someone who I miss with all my heart and would give anything to see again.

Before Mitchell passed away he wrote on a piece of paper “Dad is the best”. When he handed it to me my knees buckled because I knew I was riddled with weakness; I recognized there are a million-and-one ways I can be a better father … could have been a better father. I wanted to be the best for him but in my mind I knew I fell short – no matter how hard I tried. But to his innocent eyes I was the best. And while unworthy of that I was also grateful that he could look past my weaknesses and see into the desires of my heart.

A few days before he passed away, as Mitchell started to slip away, I sat at his side and held his hand and kissed him with all the love I had. Even though he was slipping in and out of consciousness I wanted him to know during his waking moments that he wasn't alone and that his mom and dad loved him. While deeply flawed as a father, I loved him the best I knew how and wished so badly to trade places with him.

When I look upon this box of Mitchell’s treasures I know that my real treasures aren't made of wood or stone but live inside flesh and bone. I treasure my children above all things. I live for my wife and remaining 3 children ... but am dying inside for the one I lost. The work required to mend a broken heart while trying to be a functional parent and husband is a tenuous balancing act to be sure. Some days I’m a jellyfish.

As Father’s Day approaches I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a parent … what it means to be a father. I learned long ago that I have a Father who is the parent of my soul. This isn't fiction or an imaginary means of support; He is as real as anything I know. I know this because I have paid the price to know it. And that is the promise to all of us … that we can know of ourselves. I can think of no better example of perfect parenthood. To study Him is to study what it means to be a parent, to be a child, and to understand the purpose of this life.

If it is true that we become what we’re labeled, my son’s label of me before he passed away has been indelibly etched in my mind and heart. Not because I believe it, but because I aspire to live worthy of that label. I have many miles to go … with broken legs and a wounded heart I limp forward to that place beyond the hills. That place where I can fall upon him once again and kiss his hands and face and tell him that being his father was an honor and a privilege; to thank him for teaching me about the deeper meaning of life and love. To thank him for teaching me what it means to be a father.