Father’s Day has always been hard for me. I wasn’t close to my father. We conversed when we were together but we never connected. He died 20 years ago last week (June 9, 1991, on my mother’s birthday). Our strained relationship goes back at least 50 years, when something happened that changed our relationship. I still don’t know what caused it. Some might claim that it was because I was nearing puberty. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fully explain it. I never did measure up to his expectations, whether it was I was a college student, Naval officer, post-graduate student (nine years worth), or even pastoral work, it seemed as if he could never get to the point of approving or accepting who I was or what I had done.
He was an angry man during my growing up years. He was angry in an outward way— yelling, cursing, etc. Yet why was I angry? My anger was inward directed, and few knew my anger, but it took its toll on me. This struggle also affected me when I became a father. As one of our sons especially had difficult times, I received all kinds of advice “if you would do just this…,” as if one small word or action would solve all our problems. My father joined that chorus.
I remember when I was a young teen, he would comment about families in which a child (especially teenager) would rebel, then my father would say, “If you see a child rebelling, just look at the parents and blame them.” Those words haunted me for years… even long after my father died. And I did exactly that, wondering why I ever thought I could be a father myself. The longer those problems existed, the worse it became because of the increasing isolation from friends and family who couldn’t handle it, and the blame for me toward me.
Eventually my father experienced an incident with our son and he began to understand that we didn’t face normal “teen rebellion.” With tears in his eyes, he later admitted to me that he finally realized what we endured and he didn’t know what to say to us.
And yet, I still struggled with my own role as father, that I have failed, and failed miserably. As my own world crashed in 1998-2000, I reevaluated much in my life, especially my feelings toward my father. In the process, I began to discover much about him through some genealogy research. And I began to understand him better, what he experienced as a young person. Now I would like to ask him questions, sit with him for hours and dig beyond what we shared (or didn’t share) years ago. Who knows, we could have even begun a true relationship as father and son. But it was not to be.
All of this has significant influence on my relationship with God. How can I call him “Father” when I struggled with my own father and my own role as father? I don’t have the prerogative to invent my own term; “Daddy” carries some aspect of it (like “Abba”), but not in a formalized environment like the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven….” So what do I do?
This is a big hurdle that many people face. In reality, the use of “Father” for God is the basis for healing a relationship that was (or is) bad. God the Father had a Son who perfectly obeyed and pleased His Father. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus also obeyed perfectly for me. Thus, while I never measured up, Jesus perfectly did — for me. And He invites me to live with Him in that changed relationship, with His Father, with my own father, and my own sons. Forgiveness and restoration are not just concepts, but real.
Do I regret all those years I lived in anger toward someone else, or lived with the blame in my own life? Absolutely! I would love to go back and see, speak, and act with understanding and compassion. But I cannot. However, over the years I have also realized that God brings healing through that forgiveness and restoration that Jesus earned and gives. For me, Father’s Day is not about my father, nor about me, but rather my heavenly Father. And that is worth celebrating.