My dad reads my blog, and that alone makes me a very proud writer. I don’t think I’m perfect, and I know I’ll never be perfect (I’m always rewriting, editing, changing, and rethinking the changes and re-edits). But my dad reads every word and always has positive feedback. He always has encouragement to give me, and words of love and wisdom; extensions of himself which allow me the space to both be myself and to extend beyond myself in my own choice of words. He knows the purpose of my blog is to proclaim the Truth of Jesus, and he knows how important it is to me to reach readers, whether Christian or not. And when he speaks to me in that space, he speaks into my most deepest desires as a writer with compassion and concern. There is nothing held back, but there is nothing to hold back; he loves me for who I am and why I do what I do. He knows that the reason I want to write is not about popularity or fame, but to extend myself to every person so that they might be inspired and encouraged to find the love of Jesus in their hearts. And, because of this, he wants me to succeed. He doesn’t want me to succeed just to become popular; he cares to see that I become the best at what I love doing.
That… is what a father does.
I love my dad. Many years ago, when my parents divorced, our relationship was strained. There were many, many years that passed that I could only describe poignantly in hindsight. Our relationship was, in my words: stagnant, and unprogressive, and unnatural. That is not to his fault, since I know he was going through so much already as a man. But, you see, I was able to see that after looking back on that time, when I became a Christian.
For the longest time, I didn’t feel anything for my dad because I didn’t feel emotionally engaged with him. There were many years that passed before that aspect to our relationship began to show itself. During the in-between time, he tried to get me to church just so that I would keeping the concept of God in my heart, but I was very defiant and obstinate with regards to faith. God didn’t make sense: why would a God give me parents who weren’t meant to be together just so they could divorce, ruin all that I was used to and cherished as a happy life, and then say, “Come on back to worship me, the one tearing your life to shreds.” If that was God, then I was having no part in it. Atheism set in and, needless to say, at the time, made perfect sense.
Mom and dad raised all of us kids Catholic (I have three older siblings), putting us all through the same Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools. That experience was utterly exhausting, excruciatingly judgmental and non-accepting of the transitions I was experiencing at home. My favorite moments of each day, no idioms here–were walking from my car to the school in the mornings, and my walks back to the car from the school in the afternoon. That was it. Everything else faded away in the gloss of agony, despair, rage, depression; the atheistic back-drop of my disappointing existence.
During this time, I didn’t feel like my dad was really there. I believe he was doing what he needed to do to continue on the journey of life he was on, and he didn’t know how to respond or reach out to yet another child’s response to family drama. Honestly, I don’t blame him, because I believe everything happens for a reason. I had to grow into the man I am today in a different way than other men do. My dad was never absent or ever abusive, he was there every day; but I chose to go in my room and close the door. Do I wish he would have come to me and tried breaking in to my bubble of darkness? Yes. I can never blame my dad for being a bad father, or claim he never tried to love me. What I can say is that it took me about 15 years to understand and comprehend his way of loving me, and to step into that understanding and embrace the way he had always loved me— so that I could feel it for myself as his son. That was the most precious part of our relationship, for me, as father and son: learning to feel loved by him when I had felt so distant for so many years before.
There is nothing of blame here—I absolutely love my dad, words could never capture adequately enough the love I have for my dad. Do I wish he had broken through the wall of my rebellion and stepped into my struggles more intimately with me while I was in them? Sure. I often wonder what may have changed for the better earlier on in my life if he had. But that is not regret or resentment speaking. That is an observation I’ve made after accepting that there was a reason why my dad operated the way he did as a father during that season of my life. There are reasons for our relationship making the twists and turns that it did in order for it to arrive where it is today… and where we are today, I am more grateful than I could ever explain.
For the sons out there—- if your dad left before you were born, or if they were too busy to give you a few moments of their time to let you know with their love, patience, smiles, hugs, and time spent wrestling or playing ball outside (my dad taught me to ride a bike and throw a ball–) just how much you were always loved, and how much you deeply mattered to them– I am so sorry that you never experienced manhood from your dad. That is traumatic, and wrong. Fathers are meant to embrace their role and carry us through all our childhood years by their presence, love, confidence, emotional dependability, wisdom to answer our struggles with compassion, and simultaneously feed us the zeal to overcome our fears and bullies. Fathers are the ones who teach us how to stick it out to the boys who try to tear us down. They lift us up when we are sad, and they give us a reason to want to keep going when the world tries to tell us to forfeit all of our will.
They are not meant to leave you to become a man on your own, and they are not meant to leave you to define your own purpose in your life, nor leave open the void of validation for others to fill; such as women, sex, drugs, alcohol, workaholism, materialism, and self-doubt. If this is all you know, you have my sympathy. You also have my extension of courage and motivation to not let that be the end of your story. When I had had it with not only Catholicism, but all religion, I became an atheist. For seven years, I looked at the world and saw darkness, loneliness, hatred, and disgust. They were very, very dark, saddening years; empty of all passion for life. I was fragile, sensitive, stubborn, and overly analytical. It’s not a big mystery to me that my dad didn’t seem to reach out more when all I seemed to want was space.
But that wasn’t the end of my story. After those seven years, I was even more tired of the absence of meaning in my life than I had been the betrayal of the image of a happy life with one, undivided family. As a 21-year-old, I was curious. Not seeking the Jesus I was raised with in Catholicism, but curious. I had been reminded of in a cacophony of guilt, shame, and accusatory insinuations that people– including me–were the cause of Jesus’ death. Therefore the main point of Catholicism to me, from where I was standing as a young adolescent with a divorcing family– was that I was to blame for Jesus’ crucifixion, and that I should seek forgiveness for something I never understood. That was Catholicism for my entire childhood, and by the time the divorce happened, I didn’t feel any love of God. I just felt blamed. Atheism made much more sense. I didn’t need guilt about a God that didn’t make any sense to me having died because of me. That was the final straw for me, and the beginning of seven years of denial.
After that, God Himself led me to Florida, where I met a man of God who was open and inviting about faith. Jesus met me in Florida, because He knew I wouldn’t meet Him in Michigan (where I was born). It was there that my faith began; from just the seed of mere curiosity, and not for anything specific, but just for something to fill in the blank; a generic response to a vague concept. Funny, what I received in response to the desire for something so simple and undeterminable was the most complex, sophisticated, intricate, and satisfying (over the course of 8 years and still going) answer I could have ever tried to imagine. And it was in this Godzilla of a response that I discovered, through much difficult question and answer sessions with friends, spiritual guides/mentors/pastors/prayer partners/life groups, that a father like mine could love me the way he did. God revealed to me, after taking me out of a place I was refusing to see Him in and placing me in a location much more stable and rectifying of my anger and doubts– that not only had my dad always loved me, but that–just as I was blind to see God in my life through the work of Jesus Christ for all those years–I was just as blind to see my own father loving me on earth despite my walled-up presence and desire for isolation.
What a miracle that was! Imagine my response when I realized that not only was there a God (who just so happened to become flesh, die, and resurrect so that I could be with Him in Heaven when I die), but that my earthly dad loved me for all the years when I was hiding in my room hating life and all the pain that was driving me away from joy.
Now, today, in 2016, Jesus is my joy. I’m on fire for God, ready to accept challenges and always pondering what He’s doing each and every day. And along the way, I have a blog where I can share myself with others, asking questions to the world that I have also faced at one time or another–or may still be facing now–to inspire people to better their own spirituality, knowing full well how my own story could easily relate to others who have experienced trauma, and turned away from theology and Jesus. My dad knows ALL OF THIS, and he loves me for why I do what I do.
That… is what a dad does.
Does your dad do that? If he doesn’t, could you bring that to his attention? If you are a believer of Jesus, have you tried talking to you earthly father about your Father in Heaven? If you aren’t a Christ-follower, even in your unbelief, can you speak the truth to your dad that you need him to show you how he really feels, so that you can feel whole as you confront a life full of unknowns? If your dad has abused you, can you turn to a healthy father-figure and ask them to be your inspiration, your role model, your word of wisdom and crutch while you don’t understand life quite yet? This is what a father does. If your dad can’t or won’t, will you find one who will?
God the Father loves every single human being, because He uniquely made each and every one of us. Jesus died for you so you could live in radical joy of the hope to come. Will you lean into that promise, that love–that joy–and express it to others around you?
Fathers, will you lean in to your children and love them in every way you have read about here, and more?
Dad, I love you. Thank you for being a dad I can love with all my heart, pushing me to the next step. I’m very thankful for you.