Tag Archives: fatherhood

In Which I Gain Some Fatherly Perspective…

Most of us have heard our parents say, at some point, that they’ve tried their best to do better for us than their parents did for them.  Most of us that are parents have figured out that they really meant it when they said that.  It’s far too easy, though, to focus on where our parents have fallen short, and miss their sometimes herculean efforts to be better parents than their own.

My parents separated when I was 15.  The ugly reality of divorce is that no matter how well all parties involved handle the aftermath, it’s still an aftermath!  Take the classic teen-know-it-all-hormone-induced-confusion-and-angst of most 15-year-olds, couple it with a divorce and constant conflict with your father and what you get is a recipe for long term negative focus, to put it lightly.  Complicating things, I misread my father for several years.  You see, we have a lot in common – shared interests, personality traits, values, habits, vocal inflections, etc.  It’s easy to assume you know the other person’s motives and intent when you have so much common ground.  About ten years ago, one of my sisters had us take the Myers-Briggs assessment and I was amazed that my father and I both weren’t “ENTJ”.  That was a critical moment for me, after which I really began to pay more attention to who my father was – and respect our differences.  Gone were the arrogant presumptions – now replaced with at least some humility.  Over the last two decades – and as a result of moments like those – my relationship with my father has improved beyond my expectations and hopes.

This year, my father’s birthday coincided with Father’s Day, and I took my oldest son with me to visit him for the weekend.  I found myself thinking back over the stories he’s told me of his childhood.  The youngest of 7 children – over 20 years separating him and his oldest sister (a sister who was more a mother to him than sister, and more grandmother to me than aunt).  His mother died when he was 14.  His father was, by all accounts, a good man, but strong on discipline and sparse with praise and emotional connection.  I learned this weekend that his father never took him camping or canoeing – something he did with me for many years when I was young.  And it occurred to me that those weekend trips (and many were week-long trips) that my dad took with me cost him real vacation time & rest.  Canoeing 50 miles, while tons of fun, isn’t terribly relaxing or easy on the muscles and back!  Many dads simply want to sleep on the couch during a football game, rather than in a tent in a south Georgia swamp, cooking cheap hot dogs over fires made with wet firewood.  What 42-year-old wants to don a backpack and hike sections of the Appalachian Trail with a bunch of 12-year-old boy scouts?  My dad did.  He made the choice to do something with me that I loved, something his father never modeled or did for him.

Our parents are children, too, just like us.  They carry their own set of hopes, fears and disappointments which they shared with their own parents.  I am tremendously fortunate that, regardless of all the ‘aftermath’ of coming from a broken home, both of my parents have fought hard to give me a better life than what they had.  I’m not dismissing or trivializing the challenges – don’t get me wrong, divorce sucks.  There are years we can’t get back, and words all of us wish we could forget having ever said.  But then the picture of redemption arrives.  Maybe at first it’s just fragile ‘green shoots’.  But it grows up in the presence of – in spite of – the pain, difficulty and scars, almost as if to prove to the hurt that it can’t be stopped or overcome.  Redemption, by its very nature, not only rescues us, but laughs in the face of our former captor.  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” (Psalm 23: 5)

 

At a Loss…

I’ve been quiet recently, as my thoughts have been tangled up in some of the ‘proverbial’ big questions of life and its inevitable hardships.

I’ve often puzzled at the spoken and unspoken attitudes about suffering which I’ve encountered in many evangelical church settings.  You’d think that we’re all destined for “upward and onward” in life – as if things would always get progressively better and brighter.  I don’t buy it – it simply doesn’t fit with real human experience (not to mention Biblical teaching).  There’s an underlying impression from so many in those circles that hardship must be because you’re not doing something right or often enough, or there’s a secret sin in your life.  To which I can only respond by saying “read the book of Job”.  Guess what?  Life sucks sometimes, and for no obvious reason.

Relationships are powerful.  The things that you say and do – they hold tremendous power.  We all have moments that our brains seem all too willing to replay – a ‘pivotal’ moment in life where nothing was ever the same afterwards.  A book I’ve been reading recently has the dubious honor of bringing to mind one of those moments from years ago – one I’ve long preferred to keep buried.  A phone conversation with my father when I was 15, being told “You’re the man of the house, now.”  Forgiveness is also powerful.  It frees you from the trap you’ve set for yourself (no one else is going to fall into it, that’s for sure).  But, as I’ve learned all to well in the last 21 years, forgiveness is only the beginning.  It removes the hooks that would otherwise drag your heart into darkness, but it doesn’t, on its own, rectify things.  By itself, it doesn’t restore what has been stolen; it gives you a fighting chance. Two decades later, I’m still trying to take hold of that fighting chance as best as I can, though I confess that lately it’s been a difficult road.  Broken families are deep wounds, and I’ve apparently struck another vein in the mine of my heart.  But it’s not my own loss that I’ve been pondering only….

A man whom I dearly love, respect and whom I have looked up to as a big brother since I was 12 is suffering from terminal cancer, and has not been given long to live.  While my family and I have found immeasurable comfort in our shared faith, and in the reality of Heaven, we are not spared the grief of loss (however temporary in the grand scheme of things), nor the challenges it brings to my sister (whose husband is the man I’m referring to) and her three children.  I have not wept in years like the night I sat at his bedside and poured my heart out, wanting him to know how loved he is, and to have hope for the new life ahead of him.  I can see the concern in his eyes for his wife and children, and as a father myself, I can empathize.  In the days ahead, they will need me, and I, them.  My nephew is not much younger than I was when my family’s world was turned upside down.

It’s fitting I’ve been reading Kierkegaard lately.  Much like Job, we all want to ask “Why?!” in the midst of suffering – but it’s astonishing how unimportant that question becomes once  redemption arrives.  As Edward Mooney writes, “The reception of a life beyond dust and ashes throws the need for an answer aside."  While I, as Christian, believe in a day of ultimate redemption, I also believe in the tens of thousands of days in between.  We can be a part of those “little redemptions” in other’s lives.  Crying with those who are hurting, giving generously to those who need, teaching those who are unskilled – none of which can happen if we let our own losses paralyze us.  And none of which can happen if we subscribe to the self-help, decorate-my-life-with-my-God-bracelet mindset that denies or avoids real suffering, and hides from the deep questions it provokes in all of us.