21st Century Renaissance Man

Apr 7, 2014

My Fathers Heart: My Father

This is a chapter from one of my "started, never finished" books...

Forgive your Father, for they know not what they do…
My wife once told me that one of her fondest memories of her father was the time that he took them to the fair for a day of fun.  Growing up Jennie did not see much of her father and so time was enough, however this particular time she fondly remembers how he held her and Andy’s hands and they laughed and had a lot of fun. But the memory also holds a bitter sweetness because she also remembers a group of teenage boys defiantly bumping into her fathers shoulder and then calling “fat ass” in a childish game of “see how macho I am”.  Jennie’s dad did not respond however the damage done could be seen on his face. He had been embarrassed in front of his kids, demeaned and left with no recourse he had to swallow what little pride was left and try to return to the fun of the day.

In every child’s life there comes a time when they realize that dad is not Superman. He does not know everything, he isn’t rich and he does make mistakes. Let’s face it, learning dad doesn’t have all the answers is a huge disappointment.  After all if he doesn’t know the meaning of life then who does?  It is no wonder that kids often have fonder memories of teachers, coaches or pastors – they don’t have to live with them.  It’s easy to have a high opinion of someone who has never scratched their half exposed butt in front of your friends let alone failed to teach us the meaning of life.

Whether your father was a dead beat whose name you never knew or a kind and loving man who simply did the best he could; every one of us have a scar left of by this childish disappointment.  It is our first taste of reality and it cuts to the core of our existence: if dad can’t save me then who will?

For many, particularly men, this “father wound” will spur a life long feeling of being alone.  “If he can’t help me, then no one can” they say to themselves; a cold, hard attitude that perpetuates itself when they as fathers have no way of connecting with childlike innocence because it was lost so very long ago.  At the first sign of tears or weakness they coldly rattle off “crying is for babies”, “buck up” or “be a man”. Ever trying to maintain their own image of strength and support they overcompensate and never emotionally connect with their children or spouse in fear that it might show weakness.

“If my own fathers weakness hurt so badly”, we internalize, “then I must be strong for my kids and never let them down.” An endeavor, which is impossible, leaving us all feeling unfulfilled, unappreciated and just plain unhappy.

It does not surprise me when a man leaves a marriage of twenty years to start a new family sighting a newfound happiness.  The truth is he hasn’t found a better way to live; he has just given himself a second chance to do it better this time around.  This newfound lease on life lasts only a short time before once again he finds himself disappointing his children, his wife and himself. All because of a wound left unintentionally by his father.
That is what we all have to deal with if we are ever to truly find healing for this Fathers Wound. No matter what he did or did not do your father was a regular person just like you; with faults, addictions, fears, limitations and even wounds of his own.

This by no means excuses inappropriate behavior.  Abuse of any kind is unacceptable.  A father who takes advantage of his position for personal fulfillment by overpowering or gratifying himself with his children needs to feel the entire weight of the judicial process and those he hurt need must be given a safe place to grow-up.

Those who did not escape a violent childhood suffer a life long struggle trying to reconcile why their father did what they did.  If you are one of these children it is imperative you know it was not your fault and you have no obligation to continue or reinitiate a relationship with him.

We are all left with the emotional baggage of sorting out our relationship to our father as one of only a few significant relationships in this life. If we refuse our fathers the right to be human, with all its defects and imperfections then we deprive ourselves of the ability to move past his failings and untimely forgive him.

And forgive him we must.  Because at some point in all of our lives we are no longer his child; Oh sure, genetically we will always be his offspring and morally we must honor him as our Father, but as we mature and step into the adult roles of life we take on responsibility for ourselves which is precisely where our fathers have been our entire life.

At this stage of accountability we all enter into a divine contract that states we will be judged solely on our own actions, deeds and convictions. No mans fate is decided by how he was raised or who his father was.  Sure some are given a leg up by being well groomed for success, but God is no respecter of men and offers equally to all of us the riches of His kingdom.  The secular world even welcomes, for the most part, all equally by rewarding those who take responsibility and hard work.

We are now on an equal level with our father and can look across the scope of time to that moment when we first realized that our dad was not superman and say to him, “It’s alright dad, I forgive you.”

Personal responsibility gives us room to examine our own defects and relate to our fathers as men.  After all, internally we allow ourselves room for mistakes and patience with our learning curves; then too can we leave allowance for our fathers shortcomings.

In the end we find that no one really has all the answers.  Life is a constant pendulum of discovering that the more we know the less we really know. Only God knows everything and He knows that we couldn’t handle the true answers in this life even if they were written down on stone tablets for all to see.

Our fathers were men just like us: sinful, selfish and at times stupid. Today we can understand that because we have walked in their shoes, we know failure, we understand feeling inadequate and all of us have felt the sting of embarrassment.

Imagine sitting in a room with a man who pours out his heart to you.  He shares how he never really knew his father and his mother was a drunk who took them from boyfriend to boyfriend as a way of survival.  He tells about dropping out of college to marry a girl he hardly knew so that his son would not be born a bastard, about his failed business venture and how financial troubles ultimately led to the end of his first and second marriage.  He begins to sob as he admits he rarely ever sees his own children and knows that many of their life struggles are the result of the pain and misery he caused.  He has a grandchild who he has never met and if he can keep his drinking under control he may be able to salvage his third marriage but that looks bleak also.

Most of us would listen, if he was a friend we would hug him and tell him it will be all right.  Some of us might pray for him others might offer to help him seek counseling or treatment. In his time of brokenness and humility few would pass judgment. We may even admire him for his unabashed honesty.  You might counsel him to try and make up with his kids, that it is never to late to make things right. If he counters by saying he has tried you might again comfort him with words like “at least you tried.”

Imagine you are the man, what struggles as a father and a man would you share?  What council would you want to receive, what things would you want to hear?  Would you cry, would you share, would you long to be told that everything will turn out right no matter what you have done because there is always hope?

Now imagine that the man is your father.  Substitute his failings and shortcomings for the ones above.  What council would you give him? Would you hold him and let him cry?  Would you demand that due to his repentance his children must forgive him?  Would you offer him hope for a better future? 

Would you tell him he is not alone?

Your father has a heart too.  His heart is scared from his father and it is also wounded by his own failures as a father. He made mistakes, he left some pretty bad scars and now you are left to deal with his screw-ups and he know it.

We may never get the opportunity to sit in a room and here our father confessing his inadequacies, in deed it is not our responsibility or even our right to try and make him do so.  Confrontation will only produce hostility as he hears you confirm his greatest fear of all - he is a failure as a father.

We can, however, forgive him for what he could not or did not fix and gain appreciation for him as a man. In doing so we reprogram our minds to view memories of our father through the same eyes that Jesus sees us through: with forgiveness, grace and hope.

Inside all of us, our fathers included, there is a hurt child who needs to know that we are safe and not alone.  By seeing the man in our fathers, by understanding that his heart his wounded too, we begin to realize that we were never truly alone.  Our fathers presence or ability to help did not change when we our heart was wounded, we just became aware of our surroundings.  When Superman has our hand we know that we can fly and we admire the view, when he lets go the great view becomes a long way to fall and we are suddenly aware of how dangerous this flying thing really is.

For the most part I can recall the exact moment each one of my kids became associated with fear.  It was hard for me as a father because I knew that they would no longer be able to go into a dark room with our turning on the lights and I knew that even my hand would only pacify their fear new things but ultimately they would have to face their fears on their own terms.

For my oldest boy, Daniel, fear came when he was just 2 years old and I took him to my sister’s basketball game.  For the entire game I had him on my shoulders and when the game ended, and my sisters team had won, we all funneled down onto the court to celebrate.  In a split second I lost my grip on Daniel and he fell from my shoulders to the gymnasium floor and let out a cry that stopped everyone in the room.  Thankfully he was not hurt but from that day forward Daniel has never let me put him on my shoulders again and he has a terrible apprehension of heights.

Someday, I just know that he will be sitting in counseling somewhere trying to discover why he is afraid of heights and will uncover one of my many mistakes as a father.  Granted, a fear of heights is not all that bad of childhood scar and if one escapes childhood with only a phobia of flying or cliff diving chances are they will have very little problems navigating this life successfully.

In reality, just as my father did with me, I have made my fair share of mistakes and I wonder if all my kids will need years of therapy after I get through with them.  As hard as I try to do the right thing I constantly find myself locked in a loosing battle to be able to answer my children’s questions, concerns and fears. Ultimately I am reduced from Superman to “that’s just my dad” and only time will tell how badly I messed the whole thing up.

I can only pray that when they reach maturity and begin to understand their own sinfulness and shortcomings that they will find it in their heart to forgive me.

Until then, I forgive you dad and I pray you forgive me too.

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