On Monday, I celebrated my 3rd Father’s Day since I got married on a wet and cold February in 2013. The first celebration came after we were married for a couple of short months, when we found out we were going to be parents. Our celebration was short-lived as we mourned the loss of our baby a week later. The second time was last summer, as we awaited with elation, uncertainty, and anticipation for the arrival of Elinor Sadie in 8 weeks. Finally, yesterday’s celebration began with my daughter “handing” me a SuperDad tshirt and ended with her saying Dada as we were cuddling before bed. All day on social media I read friends and acquaintances alike share memories of their fathers, while posting pictures and tributes to the men they call dad.
I didn’t .
No, it wasn’t because my dad doesn’t have a Facebook account or I don’t celebrate holidays. Father’s Day is a holiday that is hard to celebrate and I dread it every year. When I see commercials with the dad being portrayed as a mindless and aloof buffoon or my friend’s dad is spoken of like he is a superhero who can do no wrong, my heart is filled with an assortment of emotions from jealousy to frustration. No dad is perfect but for one day it seems like he is. Don’t misunderstand me, I understand and affirm the importance of having a father in your life. I have read the articles talking about how the involvement of a father is crucial to the life of his child. If I’m being honest, my pain lies with my own dysfunctional relationship with my father.
When I think of what a father means to me, I think of my father. His broken promises. His choice to not eat dinner with us. His refusal to show affection. His profanity-filled outbursts. His struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. Somehow in the midst of all the brokenness, nights crying myself to sleep, and playing catch alone, I knew deep down inside that I wanted to be the daddy I didn’t have.
In the movie Hook, an adult Peter Pan is struggling to find his “happy thought” until he remembers that his happy thought was being a father. I don’t remember when I saw this movie, but when this heartwarming scene took place it brought me to tears. Now, each time I see this movie I get choked up and cry like I did all of those years ago.
Now, as we are coming up to my daughter’s first birthday in August, I am reminded of my own father. I wonder if he looked at us children with awe and amazement when we were crawling on the floor or got excited when we were growing our first teeth like I do. Did he wipe away our tears when we fell on our bottoms after trying to walk for the thousandth time like I do? Did his heart break too when our only way of communicating was through screams? As I wonder “what if,” I’m brought back down to reality as I am reminded of the wounds and scars he inflicted on us. It is difficult to say that I am grateful and love him, but I am reminded of the other person who made me the man I am today.
My mama. She saw very early on that I needed positive male role models and sought them out for me. There have been numerous men who have taught me the lessons my dad didn’t. They taught me what it means to be a man of character and faith. The importance of leading others through serving. To strive to be a peaceful and meek man. And many more traits. Not only did my mama instill in me to seek-out men who were godly or were worth looking up, she taught me to see God as my father who would never leave nor forsake.
It is not easy to wrap my head around someone who is called Father and picture them as compassionate, steadfast, faithful, patient, loving, and forgiving, but that is exactly the Father I love with my heart, soul, strength, and I am empowered by and through his love to love and care for others. It is an ongoing mystery that the Creator of the universe, whose imagination made the earth and everything in it, who holds everything together. Who gives us our fathers to help shape us into who we are today. This Father who I can come to at any time asking for protection and wisdom, whose living breath makes all creation new.
When we call God ‘Father’, we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray. But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed. And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos—then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.
–N.T. Wright from The Lord and His Prayer.
Father’s Day is a difficult holiday to celebrate, but I am grateful that God is restoring the years of pain and hurt that I have received from my father. Each night before baby girl goes to bed, I remind her of these truths: “I love you. No matter what. Always.” I believe this is what my heavenly Father tells me as he washes away the dirt and salt from my cuts and scars. His healing is an ongoing process, but God provides exactly what I need in order to become the father he wants me to be. Of course, I have and will make mistakes but I am becoming the daddy I never had. And also through the wisdom and instruction of others, I am becoming the man that my family needs.