Saturday, June 16, 2012

When a Father Falls Short of the Ideal: Father's Day Ponderings of an Adult Child of Divorce

Photo credit: Boonsboro Pharmacy
As I stand in front of the Father's Day card display at Walgreens, I am conscious of others stopping near me, picking out a card, and moving on. Some say, "Excuse me," and I move out of their way. They see just the card they want. I, on the other hand, bite my lip as I pick one up, read each word carefully, and return it to it's slot. Not just any card will do.

Thanks, Dad, for always being there.... 


My fondest childhood memories are of the special times you spent with us....


Dad, I have always looked up to you as a mentor and friend...


Put it back.

Here's a nice one:
A Dad is respected because he gives his children leadership. A Dad is appreciated because he gives his children care. A Dad is valued because he gives his children time. A Dad is loved because he gives his children the one thing they treasure most - himself.  
Leadership? Were we supposed to follow when he walked out on us?

Care? How many times did we suffer want because of late or non-existent child support payments? 

Time? Himself? The visits became farther and farther apart until we were surprised whenever he finally did call to see us for that one-hour trip to the park and ice cream shop on a Saturday afternoon.

I feel the tears brimming hot on the rim of my lashes. I brush them away, looking to make sure no one sees me acting like a baby. I was supposed to be hardened against this pain. Why did it have to come back now in public? 

I finally choose something which includes no fond memories or gratitude for stellar performance in fatherhood. If I chose one of those, he would either think I was kidding (a cruel joke) or outright lying. I could do neither. 

What I really wanted to do was honor my father. I wanted to bless him in spite of himself. I wanted to forgive and forget and move on, not because he gave us leadership, or care, or time, or himself, but because I had found a love for him in my heart which had been planted there by God. As I had been loved yet in my sins, I could love Dad yet being in his sins against me. As I had been forgiven, so I could forgive, unconditionally and without any hope of him ever performing all those fatherly ideals with which every child longs to be blessed. 

You see, there came a time when all my bitterness and grief over my parents' divorce finally culminated in a crisis of soul. I came to the end of myself and saw my own sins in the light of God's holiness. At that point, my father's sins didn't appear quite so enormous. I saw how I had grieved my own Heavenly Father by my sins against Him and others and that He was reaching for me through the blood of His Son on the Cross. It was that day that I climbed up into His lap and felt the warm embrace of a truly "godly" Father who loved me with an everlasting love. He became my Father and I His daughter (II Cor. 6:18). 

It still took many, many years for me to come to understand that my father didn't even know he was causing me so much pain and grief by his absence and neglect. He didn't realize how much I needed him and, frankly, neither did I.

Dad getting a hug from my sister, Melissa, on his
70th birthday (2009) just before heading for church.
And, though my own dear father has also come to know Christ in recent years and our fellowship is now so loving and sweet and real, I still find myself struggling at the card counter. I don't have those fond memories many children have, because my father was not the ideal, biblical father. But, through Christ I can honestly bless him from my heart, releasing him from all the expectations I had set up for him all those bitter years.  

If your father has been negligent or even abusive, pray for his soul and for healing and forgiveness on your part, reaching out to your Heavenly Father through His Son. Then and then only may you know this truth which can set you free:

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up." (Psalm 27:10). 

Note: Please click on this link to go to A Happy Father's Day Indeed to read the sequel to this story!