There are those who would say that Father’s Day is another attempt by Hallmark to get our money. Maybe they’re right, but I choose not to see the commercialism of the day, but the intent behind it. Honoring fathers is something that is not often done in our society, so setting aside one day seems appropriate if not necessary. If you look at images in our culture, the father figure is often an idiot or worse. I think that those images mirror real life for many people, and that causes me to be more appreciative of my own father. But it also causes me to realize that for a lot of people Father’s Day is a painful day.
Absent fathers leave a hole in the heart. Whether it is because of divorce, death, work, or being emotionally unavailable doesn’t matter. The place a father should reside in a child’s life is scarred and empty, and that can leave a wound that is forever trying to be filled. The result is feeling incomplete, abandoned, and somehow less-than.
Abusive fathers cut the heart up. These dads are NOT fathers. They are spoiled children who cannot see past their own noses to see the affects their behavior has on their kids. They act only for their own agendas. Their purposes for causing pain are impossible to understand, yet the kids they harm are continually trying to grasp it, because they believe themselves to be the reason. This wound bleeds self-condemnation. The result is constant feelings of unworthiness.
Dealing with these types of wounds takes a life time and the effect is not easily undone. Each person handles these things differently…some shut people out, others overly compensate by being too open, some are self-effacing, while others drip with arrogance that is a mask to hide behind. Neediness and dysfunction abound, and the walking wounded pass the hurt down through the generations for lack of knowing how NOT to.
Is it any wonder that relating to God as a father is so difficult? Is it any wonder so many people ache inside with longing to be loved unconditionally? When the understanding comes that God is not absent or abusive, that he is in fact, the opposite of those things, grace floods and healing flows. Tenderness and compassion are poured out and suddenly, the formerly warped image of “father” becomes a lifeline of hope and life. The reality that we all have a loving father who has not and will not ever leave or forsake us transforms our thinking about life and about ourselves. This is what we celebrate on Father’s Day…dads who express this to their children…those who display a true father’s heart and impart it to their offspring. No human dad is perfect, but in their knowledge of their imperfections, and their willingness to receive God’s grace, they show their own children the way of life.
I am blessed to have one of these dads. The image of God as a father is not difficult for me to grasp because of my dad’s love for me. He showed me the way to find God in the flowers, by taking me hiking in the woods. He showed me the way to find God in other people, by sharing what he had with them. He showed me the way to find God in my life, by being generous with his love for me. He doesn’t say a lot about these things, he shows them to me. He demonstrates. I observe and I learn. I am more than grateful for this man who is my father.
Good step dads do all these things as well. They personify the spirit of adoption that God so graciously pours out on us. Taking in the child of another and loving them as their own is a high calling. It is as if their hearts have an extra dose of compassion that enlarges them, so that they can show what unconditional love and acceptance looks like.
A man does not have to participate in birthing or adopting a child to be a father. God gives his heart to many men who patiently pour themselves into the lives of others as father figures. These men have a generosity of spirit that is like pouring healing oil onto the wounded hearts of those who have father wounds. They nurture and give guidance. They call out and send forth. These men are as much fathers as the ones whose blood flows through the veins of the children. They are the ones who step into the gap left by the absent or abusive dads. In my book, this makes them heroes.
The truth is that God’s love is big enough to spill out onto every father and overflow into the lives of the children entrusted to his care. Whether that is biological, adopted or spiritual, a dad’s heart is God’s number one way to draw us to himself. Father’s Day celebrates that heart by affirming our dads in their efforts raise us as their children. It looks different for every individual. There is humor, and firmness, there is silliness, and frustration, there are teaching dads, and showing dads, talking dads, and quiet ones…but all those qualities roll into dads who care for their children and in so doing become an expression of unconditional love. Happy Father’s Day.