Father's Day is fast approaching and this year is going to be different. Yes, I'm still a Dad, but our son turned eighteen this year and he's striking out on his own, working at a summer camp until August. I'll spend this coming Sunday afternoon (if all goes well) floating around the pool, scaring the neighbors with my farmer's tan (even though I don't claim to be a farmer.)
This year, my son will be absent, but for many of the guys I know, it was the Dad who claimed the role of absentee. My own father's passing, (he's been gone almost 20 years now, even as I write, it's hard for me to believe he's been gone that long) left a void that took many years to fill. And even now, there are days when I long to be able to call him and seek his wisdom.
My relationship with God helps, along with the many men He's brought into my life have taken that role of mentor and counselor. But somehow it's just not the same. There is something we crave from our fathers, our Dads, that no one else can give. That need for approval, the need all men have inside them to hear those sometimes elusive words: "I'm proud of you son." A pat on the back, a firm handshake accompanied by a "Good job." Or maybe just a simple nod. That nod only men can recognize.
Maybe you never had a father. He was gone before you had a chance to establish a relationship or he was never there at all.
Maybe you had a man who lived in the house, but he never stepped into his role as Dad. He was passive and never showed you the things Dads are supposed to show you.
Maybe you had a father who abused his role as authoritarian. He abused you physically or emotionally. For some of you, that abuse continues to this day, felt as aftershocks in the echoes of his unkind words.
For them, I want to say I'm sorry. Sorry you didn't have what you needed. I'm sorry you had to endure what you shouldn't have to endure. Sorry that you're still enduring it to this day. I'm sorry that the man who was supposed to give you your first impression of who God is and how He loves us didn't measure up to the task. Sorry that he skewed that understanding with poor decisions or behavior. I didn't even know that it's a Dad's job to demonstrate God to his children until I became a Dad myself. I also realized then that I couldn't measure up either. On some level, none of us can.
See, as a Dad, you're given the mantle of responsibility to show God's character to your children from an early age, then when they're ready to transition to their own relationship with God, it's your challenge to guide them to that relationship. If a Dad fails to do this, his child can feel lost, even at an adult age, so they turn to the Dad to provide and be all the things that only God can provide and be.
If the Dad is not there, emotionally or physically, his children will turn to others (Mom, wives, husbands) as their "God." Desperately looking for the deep need for security and sense of love and belonging that should be received from God in wrong places and wrong relationships.
If I've just described you, I want to try and help you understand: those people, including your Dad, are living in the same story you are. They are people just like you, who may never have had the guidance they needed as a child. The same guidance and direction you're looking for and expect from them may never have been shown. It comes down to this: your Dad (or anyone else for that matter) was never meant to fulfill that need in you that only God can.
Understand, I'm not letting anyone off the hook here, I'm definitely not condoning or excusing abusive behavior in any form. Your Dad should step up and take responsibility for his shortcomings and failures.
However, it is your responsibility to understand that your earthly father cannot be your heavenly Father. Only God is designed to meet certain needs within you. Only God can be God. Know that as long as you are breathing, there's hope.
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