I’ve been thinking about fatherhood over the last few days. I suppose Father’s Day last weekend got me started, although the day itself was a fairly muted affair around these parts. Oh, it’s Father’s Day? Um, well, happy one of those, dad… Yawn. Which was mostly fine with me. I’ve never been a terribly enthusiastic participant in the dictates of the Hallmark calendar, anyway.
But it’s a strange thing, this being a father, not least because you inhabit a word that we also use for God. We are trained from our earliest days to think of God as something like a father. Our Father, who art in heaven, we pray, just like Jesus taught us. We thus grow up imbibing assumptions about fathers that come along with all kinds of impressive words. Words like “power,” “strength,” “resourcefulness,” “mercy,” “authority,” “provision,” and “love.” These are words that we often predicate of God. These are “father words”—words that we get to try (and fail) to live into.
Because, of course, all human fathers are pretty pale imitations of Our Father. Some people are forced to deal with abusive and absent fathers, manipulative and controlling fathers, apathetic and incompetent fathers. Or worse. But less sensationally, sometimes we just have no idea what we’re doing. Sometimes there’s nothing evil or malicious about how we inhabit this word called “father.” We’re just, well, not God. Unsurprisingly, the word “father” can look pretty un-God-like when we try to take it for a spin.
So, we’re used to looking at God’s fatherhood and then trying to emulate it. This morning, I’ve been thinking about fatherhood with the arrow going in the other direction. Instead of saying, “What kind of a father is God and how am I measuring up in my own life,” I’ve been thinking, “What might my own experience of fatherhood tell me about what it’s like to be God?” Perhaps the question is poorly or illegitimately framed. I don’t know. But I often find it helpful to think along these lines.
When our kids were younger, this was a relatively easy (and flattering) task. I peered into the contents of my heart and mind and discovered a surfeit of love and warm fuzzy goodness spilling over the edges. I was the father of kids who were filled with exceedingly lovable cuteness—kids who thought I was awesome and eminently competent. People were constantly oohing and ahhing at them, and it filled me with magnanimous fatherly pride. This is what God must feel like when he looks at us, his children, I would sometimes think. Not all the time, to be sure. I wasn’t naïve or stupid. But being a father of vulnerable, dependent, little creatures whose needs were relatively easy to meet on a consistent basis gave me, I suppose, a sliver of insight into what it might be like for God to be proud and delighted in his adoring and grateful children.
And then, toddlers became teenagers. Now instead of cute little vulnerable bundles of squishable goodness, they tower proudly over me. Now, instead of oohing and ahhing, there are winces of understanding and shared suffering. Now, the kids who once thought you could do anything are convinced that you know next to nothing, and the little that you do know isn’t really worth listening to. Now, I suspect that the word “father” is, for my kids, sometimes less about pride than embarrassment, sometimes less about joy than sheer endurance. Now, there are head-spinningly irrational exhibitions of anger and defiance. Now, there are rolled eyes and, seriously dad’s?! Now the needs aren’t always as easy to meet (or even figure out!). Now there are days when I collapse into bed at night wondering what on earth just happened.
And this, too, must be part of what it is like to be a parent for Our Father, who art in heaven. To be on the other end of rejection. To be wounded. To be misunderstood. To agonize and worry and long for his children. To stare incomprehensibly at the decisions his children sometimes make. To be blown away by those first sheepish, halting steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation. To stand restlessly at the gate, eyes peeled on the road that leads away from and back to home. Yes, this, too, must be what it is like for Our Father.
The difference, of course, is that Our Father loves consistently, perfectly, and always with his children’s best interests in mind. Our Father does not, like this father, love fitfully and clumsily, often seeking little more than to protect and justify himself. Our Father takes a longer view of things. Our Father knows what his children need when they do not. Our Father forgives more readily and restores more fully. Our Father’s will is trustworthy and worth being done, on earth as in heaven.
Our Father makes the word “father” worth trying to inhabit in better ways. And sometimes this father simply needs the reminder that his children are loved deeply and truly by Our Father. Just like he is. Despite all their faults. Despite all of his.
I snapped the image above a while back on the first day back in the office after Sunday’s service. My son likes to leave behind an (often quite entertaining) trail of evidence of his presence at my desk for me to discover the following week. This time it was an elastic band around my book stand. This was, evidently, one of his more optimistic moments.
But I’ve hung on to that elastic band. Sometimes for dear life. 🙂
I’ve always thought that great writers get to the heart of complex matters simply and with humility. You are one of those kind of writers.
I expect you to have great influence one day…….. Don’t screw it up! LOL
I’ll do my best, Paul. 😄. Thank you. I think.
Scottish parenting 101 :).
More than once I’ve heard it explained that your experience(s) of/with your earthly father will subconsciously have a direct impact on how you perceive and relate to God/ the Heavenly Father. That’s a lot of responsibility to assume as a father. I’ve not been the best example of a father to my kids. Their mother AND Grandmother did a phenomenal job of raising them. I can’t say enough for my ex-wife and how well she did with them. I saw my kids everyday for years after the divorce but we(my kids and I) drifted apart as they grew up and then I had to move to another city and we grew further apart. I hear from my kids every so often and they are doing Great! Hailey recently moved to Charleston and works full time as a dental hygienist, Alex recently graduated form U.K. as a Chemical Engineer and has landed a good job outside of Chicago. I THANK GOD that HE is with them, even though they may not know it. I’ve chosen to look at the break-up of our family as a BLESSING FOR THEM because of the emotional problems I have struggled with all my life. Thank God they weren’t subjected to living with me and my dysfunction, which by-the-way, I credit in large part to my abusive Alcoholic father.
I look forward to the day when we ALL (dad included) will be consumed with adoring and worshipping God in Heaven and these old earthly things will no longer be a memory. 🙂
I am glad to hear of your success as a family, Mike. Know that you are a part of that. 🙂
If you would like to have more of a relationship with your children have courage and take small steps in their direction. Let your kids hear from you. 🙂 Meet them where they are now in life. Be consistent in your contacts and conversations. Ask questions. Remember answers.
The past cannot be changed. Cherish what was good. Forgive what wasn’t.
Offer a gentle spirit of reconciliation. Children wish to be reconciled with their parents. Do this for them. For their needs, not yours. 🙂
Anything they offer you in return is blessing.
His peace be with you always, Mike. 🙂
Thank you for the kind encouragement, Brother I appreciate your thoughtful words. Your saying everything to me that my wife has been telling me all along 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, Mike. I cannot add much to the wisdom that Paul has already offered. I will simply add my prayers for reconciliation and restoration in your family, and my wish for the peace of Christ to be with you as you take steps, however small toward this.
I share the intimate details of my life here publicly, Ryan, not to foster sympathy or pity from anyone, but to let others with similar difficulties know that they are not alone in their personal trials and tribulations. I appreciate you allowing me to use this platform(Rumblings) to speak to those of us who are “Ragamuffins”.
In my AA meeting, we had a old man who attended sporadically that frequently relapsed. I’ll never forget one particular time when he shared in the meeting, he said “LET ME BE AN EXAMPLE for everyone of what NOT to do-of how Not to work the program”. I know on one level it was a cop-out for him, yet at the same time it was profound.
Been pondering this theme….Servant leader. Headship……As Christian men in culture, I wonder if we have lost our way. Have we over reacted to feminism? Are we under reacting to the Gospels because of this?
What does a man of Christ, a father, look like in todays world?
That makes for a unsettling meditation, Paul. The concept of “headship”, particularly the biblical notion of a man’s role as Head of the Family is all but lost. It’s too late anyway, we’re living under a new cultural paradigm now. Both my ex-wife and my current wife assumed “Headship”, more or less with my blessing. I suppose the bigger question would be: What does that say about ME??
What does it say about us all, Mike. 🙂 Biblical notions have been lost on many fronts. My prayer is that the Catholic church will find the courage to lead a comprehensive recalibration of what Christian family should look like in todays world and lead by example. A great synod will culminate in an authoritative declaration this fall….time will tell…
One thing I am convicted of is that all Christian men must make daily prayer and relationship with Jesus Christ their first priority. Let each morning begin with prayer and reflection for all men. Let evenings conclude with Scripture reading. In this way a man can offer authoritative teaching to his family. Authoritative without being authoritarian. A man of Jesus leads peacefully by example. Egalitarian, Complimentarian or any shade in between. Relationships between a husband and wife are unique to each couple. A variety of options are possible.
What has to stop is men abdicating their responsibilities. God calls us to Him. We must answer. And in the “answering” we are to offer our best efforts and understandings of this relationship to our wives and children.
Servants of the Lord. Servants of the family. This makes a man strong and true.
I feel I need to testify to a miracle of sorts that happened to me soon after Paul’s June 29th comment and Ryan’s offering of prayer. I’m trying not being overly dramatic here but something tangible CHANGED IN ME in regards to my kids. The sense of dread that has always accompanied the occasional phone call to each of them was instantaneously lifted from me one evening as I felt impressed upon to call them. I’ve been joyously calling them each week since (to their surprise) and it feels GREAT. This is so out of character for me that my wife has even commented on the positive change. I take no credit whatsoever for this welcome turn-around. Thank you both for being a part of this.
That is such fantastic news, Mike, and I am so glad to hear it! Thank you for sharing this. And long may it continue.