on fathers…

fathersonshadowHappy Father’s Day.
From my years as a therapist I am well aware of the deep impact fathers have upon the shaping of human beings. There are many people who struggle with a deep “father wound” which is a wound that has changed and distorted their very personhood. There are just as many stories of fathers who have helped to shape  a powerful and beautiful inner core in their offspring. All that is to say, fathers matter.

I sit in awe at the father-heart revealed in the story of the prodigal son. Though we may find ourselves reflected in either or both of the struggling sons, I think this story is far more about the father. All that he had belonged to his sons: his riches, his reputation, his heart. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and welcome pour forth from him without caveat, without measure, and without regret. It is a picture of God to sit within and drink deeply.

One thing I admire most about so many dads is the quiet sacrifice that is their lives. Men of my father’s generation went to war, came home, worked a job for 40-50 years to care for their families, and did it all so often without complaint because it was simply the right thing to do. It was a generation of chivalry and honor. I can remember my dad flying across a crowded plaza to grab a heavy door for an elderly lady who was struggling with it. His example in paying all that he owed on time, racking up little debt and feeling a quiet pride in his credit rating were my financial lessons. And through it all, he lived his life under the shadow of his own father’s alcoholism which had slowly siphoned him away from the family in the years following the depression.

He worked most of his adult life in marketing for a company that made industrial sewing machines. Though he worked hard and didn’t complain, I don’t believe he would say his job was his passion. It wasn’t till retirement that he had time to delve into what he really loved which was serving as a state representative for 5 consecutive terms, being moderate and wise enough that the opposing party stopped putting up a candidate against him when it came time for re-election. Now as he has reached year 80, he is perfecting his water-color painting skills. It seems that so much of the life of a family man is sacrifice – laying aside one’s own dreams and ambition for the sake of others. There’s no guarantee that time for oneself comes this side of eternity.

Of course there are dads who lose themselves (and ultimately lose their families) because of ambition, narcissism, or the image of success. There are those who struggle with their own demons and pass those on to their children. There are those who walk away. These men may be surprised to know that their children, even as adults, still love and need them on some level and that is a gift. But today I am thinking of the men who have served and who still serve quietly and faithfully, giving of their time and paychecks as best they can so that their families may thrive. They are the men who give attentiveness so that their children may know that their presence on this earth matters and that who they are matters. They are the men who know a bit about justice and making space for the other to be – even the “other” in his own home who could be the child that disappoints or the wife who discovers her voice. The lives of these men may not draw huge notice or adulation, but they are heroes. They teach us about God.

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Showing 6 comments
  • LeeAnn

    Wow!! Very touching and profound. Thank you.

  • Gregg Tucker

    Ellen, very thoughtful reflection. Thanks.

  • Skip Newby

    You make me proud and glad to be a Dad. Thanks.

  • Delia Pierson

    You write of a truth that is not spoken often enough today. The father’s influence has been diminished in our general culture’s unerstanding of family and human development. Your last line is a truth and reality that correlates directly to why our culture struggles with acceptance of the God-concept in our everyday lives. Without the strength of the father influence, we weaken the strength of the God influence. Your words should be read and heard by hundreds of thousands of people!
    Thank you for this reflection – I still miss my father who passed away in ’04. And I’m so grateful for my strong husband who is the father of our 6 children.

  • deb

    it was a joy to read about how I see my children’s father, my husband. His own was like this too, especially given the times and all. While I wasn’t so fortunate , the blessings that these two men bestow on their loved ones overflows into the cracks in my heart.

  • TC

    “…because our assumptions (which become our certainties) shut down conversations and kill hope of unity.”
    WOW…SO TRUE!!!!!!! :-////

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