Happy Father’s Day! Or Not.

I’m not anti-Father’s Day, or anything like that. And (of course — what with having been born of one and all), I’m hardly anti-fathers.  My own father isn’t a bad guy. He’s never meant anyone any harm (and that’s actually Saying Something, isn’t it?) He worked hard every day to keep his family clothed, sheltered, and fed. Didn’t get high. Was never physically abusive. Didn’t sleep around.

Not a bad dad!

Had problems, yes. Had problems enough, in fact, to help drive my sister from our home when she was 15 years old, and me from our home soon after my 17th birthday. Over the next 25 years of my life, I saw my father maybe three times.

Then I suddenly became a Christian, and found myself feeling a lot more loving and emotionally generous toward everyone — including my dad. So I started writing him once a week.

And voila — a year later, he was inviting my wife and me out to his snazzy home on the east coast. So we went, and had a perfectly lovely time visiting with him and his wife.

Proof again that God heals all!

I do not, however, have warm and fuzzy feelings about Father’s Day. It’s just too late for that. I can’t conjure up memories I don’t have — and, sadly, the memories I do have (and I’ve got a freakishly good memory) don’t exactly scream Happy Days.

If Father’s Day makes you feel all warm and fuzzy towards your father — fantastic! Congratulations! A close relationship with one’s parents is surely one of God’s greatest blessings to any of us. You scored, for sure.

If Father’s Day doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, though, trust that you are most definitely not alone.

I have a friend whose father’s idea of playing baseball with him was to sit in his car smoking and reading the paper while his son — my friend — threw a baseball into a mitt he’d propped up against a backstop.

I have a friend whose father regularly punished him by locking him in a dark closet for six, eight hours at a time.

I have a friend whose father, when she was a young girl, and while she watched, purposefully broke the backs of some abandoned kittens she’d rescued and was raising.

Okay? And these are the things I can print.

We all know what kinds of nightmares fathers and stepfathers can wreak upon the lives of those they choose to victimize.

Point is: If you’re someone for whom Father’s Day brings more pain than pleasure, take comfort in the fact that that’s true for a lot of other people, too — and, frankly, for a lot of people who won’t, or for whatever reason can’t, admit it to themselves.

And that you had a bad or less-than-ideal dad is okay, too. In the end, in fact, it means nothing whatsoever. Because each of us, no matter what sort of earthly family we were born into, is ultimately, unconditionally, and bounteously loved by the first, last, and greatest father of all.


Related posts: My Dad, My Book, and the 2008 San Diego Book Awards, and its follow-up, Connecting Flights

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  • Dan Harrell

    Well John,

    Here I sit a little misty eyed about my dad, who died at 89, five years ago this month.

    He was the kind of dad that reminds me a little of your dad, except he stayed around and reinvented himself for his grandchildren, who all loved him a lot. Because by then, he had learned how to be a father and grandfather, a skill none of us are born with.

    He is gone now and I have all these feelings I can't share with him, but my real Father brings me comfort and listens to everything I say to him. I didn't do such a great job with my kids either, but I still keep trying everyday to be there for them and tell them how much I love them.

    Happy Father's Day John, our Dad is always there for us.

  • Wow, Dan. Thank you.

  • Thanks John. Great post. Mother's Day and Father's Day are right up there with Halloween for me….

    My dad was amazing and my husband is a great dad and I love him dearly. But my heart breaks every year on this day for those who are picking up their pieces from all sorts of pain.

  • Again, thanks, Grace. What a beautiful thing to write me/us.

  • arlywn

    I spent my father’s day at work watching all the happy customers come to watch movies together. And I didnt feet bad.

    My brother spent friday night and saturday with dad, and they went to a rib fest. I think they both had a lot of fun…. little early celebration of fathers day I think.

    cool post.

  • Candace

    I like this post, John, the whole darn thing. Good stuff. That last paragraph especially led me to more deeply consider the reality that, although my dad definitely did not leave a legacy of warm-fuzzy, it truly means nothing, given the proper perspective.

    You know how we tend to develop little mantras that we repeat to ourselves and others when certain topics come up? After I had walked away from my earthly father, and up until I met my heavenly Father, I had one that went like this: "I miss the idea of A 'dad'; but I don't miss MY dad."

    Now, it's more like: "Yeah, the deal with my dad has been tough, but it's ok 'cuz now I know my Father."

    As a side note, this week I heard a talk radio program on the impact a father has on the lives of his kids. They mentioned that a prison had made Mother's Day cards available to inmates to send to their moms and it was such a success that they decided to do the same on Father's Day. But very, very few inmates sent a card to their dad. Interesting stuff to consider there too.