My dad wasn’t there.

Jen V. writes.
I have a really [crappy] relationship with my dad. We hardly ever talk even though he lives only a few miles away. He was never really there for me when I was growing up. It hurts a lot. It’s like I never really got what I needed. I am really starting to see how this impacts my relationship with other people (particularly my boy friend). Any advice.

Jen’s struggle is something many of us face—I know it is something that I struggle with. There was a lot I needed from my dad that I didn’t get . . . and still don’t.

These days my dad is a golfer, but when I was growing up he was a salesman. He might as well been a magician. He worked really hard to provide for all that we needed and much of what we wanted. He was very successful at his work and did it with integrity. I remember him taking me on some of his sales calls and how warmly he was received. He really lived by a motto that said “If you treat people right, they will treat you right.”

The down side is, he worked so much that he wasn’t home much, and when he was he was so tired that he mostly sat in the recliner and watched t.v.

Probably the earliest memory I have is concerning my father is when I three or four. I was with my mother in the threshold of our foyer just inside the front door. She was sitting and I was standing in her lap so I could see out of glass pane. We were waiting for my father to get home from a business trip. Like I said, he traveled a lot.
It was dark and the sky glowed navy and grey as summer storm clouds gradually filled the sky over our neighborhood. My mother had turned off the lights in the front of the house so that the only light came from the flickering gaslight by the front walk and a nearby streetlight that gave off just enough of an amber glow to cast shadows across the yard.

The lightening from the storm danced and flashed in the sky over the houses across the street and beyond. My hands and face that were pressed hard against the lower glass pane and I could feel the door rattle as the thunder shuttered the thin aluminum storm door. I stared down the street watching intently for my father’s headlights to pierce the darkness and lead him into our driveway.

As the storm grew, I could tell that my mother was becoming more anxious. But even though it was dark and raining, I felt safe standing there in my mothers lap with her arms wrapped around my waist to steady me. I was full of anticipation of my father’s return. And every few minutes my hopes would rise and fall as another car would come over the hill and continue on past our house . . . false alarm after false alarm.

For me the presence of my father’s absences is the most evident part of the memory. I wasn’t scared or sad. It was lonely— like a child for their father. Things seemed unsettled and incomplete

I didn’t know how many of my childhood memories were around my father’s departure and arrival until recently when I was confronted by my own children.

The other day I came into the living room from getting dressed and my four children were playing on the floor together. One of my two-year-old twins looked up at me and asked, “Dada go work?” It was a Saturday, and I wasn’t going anywhere. I realized in that moment how often my kids ask me if I am on my way out the door.

It hurts how often I hear that phrase, “Dada go work?” Now, these questions have become like punches to my kidneys. It seems that my children are more used to me leaving than any other experience of me. Like with my father, a majority of my children’s moments with me are of me coming and going. It seems I’m always in some state of transition with my kids.
The lesson really hit home when after a couple days off work I spun down enough internally to realize how lonely I was for my family. My kids kept asking me when I was leaving. They kept looking at me with this look on their faces that said, “When are you going to work? What are you doing at home?”

As I consider this more deeply, I am beginning to see how out of whack I keep my life. When I see how distant I am from my family, I see really how distant I am from God.

What do I do with my heartache over how my father has wounded me and didn’t fully equip me for adult life? Sadly, I repeat it with my kids—I follow in my father’s foot steps.
The truth is that my dad (and your dad), whether he did a good job or a bad job, did an incomplete job and he harmed me. He was not perfect and he was not fully prepared. (Another was of saying that is that he was a sinner and ill-equipped.)

All of us have suffered some degree of abuse and neglect from our fathers. For some this abuse was more violent than others and the abandonment more complete, but everyone . . . everyone . . . has been wounded and bears scars of how our fathers have harmed us or disregarded us.

“But my dad was a great guy. He did a great job. He wasnt as bad as my friend’s dad,” you say. There is no fruit in comparing. Comparison of how you have been/have not been harmed is almost always an attempt to relieve your father of his responsibility and to keep from experiencing the heartache of being a man. We’ve all been infected by the disease of our father’s sin, and, like cancer, it only takes a little to ruin your life.

The opposite is true too. We must equally see and remember their good. No man is rotten to the core. For those of us whose fathers were more sinner than saint, we need to do the hard work of trying to recognize, name, and embrace the dignity that is inherent in them. Not every man is entirely bad. There is always buried good that needs to be mined. To ignore this reality is to ignore the image of God that everyone possesses.

What I am talking about is the process of honoring our fathers. We need to do the work of naming to ourselves, trustworthy others, and God the extent of how our fathers’ sins have malformed us and how their nobility has shaped us. Until we do, we will be unable to truly love them because we wont be able to accurately see them. In our effort to dismiss their faults and follies and/or downplay their gifts and goodness, we will inevitably dismiss them, because most always, the good and bad are two sides of the same coin.

And, (and it’s a really big “and”), if we are fortunate to have our own children, like our fathers, we too will be unable to avoid damaging their hearts by wrongly using our power or by withholding our presence. You see we are in a pickle. We’re all responsible for protecting and nurturing our children’s hearts, and (there’s that big “and”) we don’t have what it takes to do the job the way in needs to be done. It’s like we’ve been asked to mow the grass and all we have are a pair of tow nail clippers.

There are some things that everybody needs if they going to live authentically.
We need to be prepared for the fact that the world is a wicked place under the control of evil. We need to recognize that forces of good and evil are at war and we need to choose a side. We needs to know that neutrality is a vote for evil.

See Also

We need to know that we have a voice and that we have power to influence and change things. We need to know that our words and actions have power. The power to bless and to curse and we needs to choose wisely.

We need to know that he has specific gifts, talents, and attributes that are powerful, creative, worthwhile, and valuable.

We need to know that we have specific shortcomings, character defects, and tendencies that are selfish, destructive, dangerous, and shameful.

We need to see that emotions are the daily bread of life and learn to articulate our hearts.

We need to figure out that life is not a race or a beauty contest.

We need to know how to grieve our guts out because life is painful and full of loss.

We need to know that all of our needs won’t be met by the ones who are made and paced their to meet them. And that when we wakes up to there needs that are not met, we need to know that that it is our responsibility, honor, and privilege to seek God and trustworthy others to fulfill our needs.

In his mercy,
Stephen

Keep the questions coming. If you have any questions you would like me to address, please let me know, [email protected]

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