Happy Father’s Day! (Or Not!)

I’m not anti-Father’s Day, or anything like that. And (what with having been born of one and all), I’m hardly anti-fathers.  My own father isn’t a bad guy. Never meant anyone harm. Good provider. Didn’t get high. Wasn’t physically abusive. Didn’t sleep around.

Not the worst!

Had problems, yes. Had problems enough, in fact, to help drive my sister from our home when she was fifteen years old, and me soon after my seventeenth birthday. Over the next twenty-five 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 home on the east coast. So we went, and had a perfectly lovely time visiting with him and his wife.

God heals all!

Father’s Day does not, however, evoke in me warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s just too late for that. I can’t conjure up memories of my dad that 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. You scored, for sure.

If Father’s Day doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, though, please don’t ever forget that you are hardly alone in that.

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 had 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.

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  • Holly

    Thank you John.

  • DonP

    "Our Father who art in Heaven…………………..", Hmm, Hmm.

    I look around the world and wonder………………….Hmm, hmm…………………..

    I must say: I got some questions Dad……………

    Happy Father's day anyhow.

  • nelma elisa

    *** That was nice. Covered all the bases!

  • Leslie

    That story about the kittens was devastating. My heart goes out to your friend. I hope she has been able to find healing as an adult.

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    Thanks John – mostly great post. But, if you follow any literal anthropomorphic model of God as father to Jesus, God doesn't rank highly as a father either. In fact, some people call it the "child abuse model…" I won't even go into the crappy OT stuff He supposedly did to his various "children" – but right up their with the kitten incident in my book…The biblical "Father" hardly rates the "Father of the Year" award.

    What kind of parent would send his son off to be killed – surely the creator of all that is could have dreamed up a better plan? I mean seriously…

    I feel loved, cared about, supported, etc., but none of it, (at least in my case) needs to be filtered through the lens of a relationship archetype.

  • Gina Powers

    Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU.

  • That was my wife, actually. Thank you.

  • Boy, for a Christian, Scott, you have some pretty harsh sentiments.

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    LOL – I usually use the term "panentheistic, existential Christian" to better represent my worldview…

    I recognize and honor the value of Jesus the Christ's message of integral unity, and even his integral worldview of our fundamental oneness and unity. Have experienced our profound interconnectedness, so it's moved beyond the level of "belief" ("Belief is a non-experiential way of knowing" Werner Erhart) for me.

    Jesus almost exclusively used metaphors, "God is like a Farmer", or "God is Like a whaever…" to describe the indescribable. To describe the relationship that we have the potential for experiencing with God. This all can be helpful for people to try and understand, in the limited way humans can "understand" the nature of that which is not really understandable – but I haven't found it helpful, for myself, to project my own stuff onto the Divine.

    I personally find the "God as Father" model to be particularly obnoxious, but certainly recognize that it works for other people. As you sort of pointed out, I don't think at the level of core, personal maps of reality, it's possible for someone to have a crappy experience with their father, and then project all kinds of cool, warm fuzzy feelings on The Big Guy. I could dribble on – but you get it…

  • wen

    Thanks for this, John. Fathers Day DEFINITELY doesn't carry any emotion for me either. Sadly. I make the obligatory phone call, but never buy a card, as they're all sentimental & I'm not gonna conjur up feelings that are non-existent!

    Guess I find comfort in knowing that I'm not alone!

    Sad, but true.

  • Don Whitt

    What a sad, sad posting for father's day. Let's make sure to give shitty mothers equal time next Mother's Day.

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    Ditto on the card thing – hard to find one that simply says "Thinking of you – have a nice day"

  • Leslie

    Wow. And she grew up to be a decent kind human being with a wicked sense of humor who adores her husband (and least by your description of her) rather than a drug-addicted, bitter angry woman who abuses her own children. My admiration for her just tripled.

  • You're welcome.

  • Bill

    That story reminded me of similar incidents with my father. We lived on a farm. Had farm cats, diary and beef cattle, hogs, the usual. Dad was sometimes brutally practical. As a child I remember watching him club to death a newborn calf that he determined wasn't going to survive anyway for whatever reason while I fled to the hayloft with it's bleating assaulting my young spirit. Another time he disposed of an excess of kittens by throwing them against the stone barn wall and yet another time shot our dog in the head with our small caliber 22 rifle (I don't remember why) and left it lying on the dirt floor of the machine shed to die. It didn't, and after awhile I noticed that it was still breathing so he axed it in the head.

    Dad was never abusive toward us four children or our mother and was a good provider but I never knew a hug or word of love from him and, so far as I know, neither did my siblings, and those violent experiences traumatized me. I feared him. Because I'm gay I guess I was a bit "different" as a child (in retrospect), not stereotypically flamboyant or "swishy" but apparently different enuf to be noticed and I think that confused him. He related better with my two sports minded younger brothers and my younger sister but he and I never bonded and when he died less than two years ago, I felt nothing.

    I did the socially acceptable thing in my young manhood and married and raised two sons vowing (successfully) to break the generational pattern of "hands off" non-relating I grew up with. My sons knew hugs and words of love (still do) and today, while we have some differences as grown men, we have strong relationships. I understand now the Biblical phrase alluding to the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons. God does that only in the sense that psychological and emotional weaknesses, fears and hatreds can be passed on from one generation to the next. They are not accidents or acts of a capricious God. They are taught.

    Sadly, I never knew my father and I suspect that, like my mother before him, he died thinking I'm going to hell. But I am the one who understands what he never could.

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    "Of course Christians have always conceived of God as “Father,” for all the obvious reasons. It works."

    SOME Christians have John, perhaps even most – but not ALL by any means. And, there are still lots for whom it doesn't work, and who simply silence themselves knowing it's exhausting to swim upstream.

  • Don Whitt

    Well then, time to take on those ungrateful little brats – aka "offspring".

    Let's all put the funk in dys-funk-tional family!!!

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    Bill – I wish you were around to give you a big hug because that's what I really feel like doing after reading your post. I can so completely relate to what you wrote. And yes, "you are the one who understands what he never could." Well, well put.

    Ditto my own (three) dads. Each wanted some other kind of son. They couldn't always articulate way, but they knew, and conveyed subtly (and not so subtly) that I wasn't "it."

    I don't blame them (anymore) because they functioned from a different worldview and context than we have today, and "unconditionality" was not a part of that. Even now, as I'm heading off to church (United Methodist) I go knowing that the "Church" officially disapproves of who I am at a core level – so, in some respect, it does feel like home.

  • My Dad, for all his faults loved us. He did his best to provide for us. He had the equivalent of a fifth grade education thus could not read well, but was good with machines. He worked with the Operating Engineers in our area and helped build everything from buildings, power plants locks and dams and highways running the heavy machines. He may not have learned much via schooling, but in the School of Life he graduated with Honors.

    I and Dad clashed alot. Being the oldest and not a son, he wasn’t sure what to do with a daughter, I think. Oh, he loved me, was proud of me, but he was a man, and I girl. I don't think he had a clue as to what to for a little girl. Mom did however and so Dad let Mom teach me the girly things and finer points of being a woman. However, I was more a tomboy that climbed trees than a little girl who played with dolls and dress up. In fact, only one Christmas did I ever get a Barbie doll while my brother got a Tonka backhoe toy. (Back when they were made with steel and not plastic.) Before the day was over I had the Tonka and my brother the doll.

    When I later grew and worked as a plant operator Dad was proud. I too was good with machines, even though he taught my brothers how to fix cars. He was impressed at my knowledge and strengths. Literal strength, I was rather strong for a girl. His nickname for me was Muscles. And intellectual strength. He was proud of the fact I did not drink or mess around and get pregnant and finished High School, something he never did.

    Dad was proud of me. And I was of him, despite his faults.

    Dad was an alcoholic. So was Mom. They fought often. Horrible, loud shouting fights that thankfully rarely became physical. But, when they did, the furniture flew. Their alcoholism intensified when my youngest brother at the time was killed at the end of our driveway when he rode his bike out into the street and was hit. This scene repeated seven years later when another younger brother met the same fate. Devastated my parents. Their alcoholism continued, so did the fights. But underneath all that was this sense of family, dysfunctional as it was. Dad loved us, but simply had difficulty showing it as years went on. I believe he was frustrated by this and it came out as anger.

    Looking back I realized Dad’s own mind was slipping back as early as twenty years before his death. It began when his Mother died. It hit him hard. Something of himself also died that day. He buried it with alcohol and long hours of work.

    He had dementia and the beginnings of Alzheimer's when he passed in 2003. Dad was not a church going man but did believe in God and Jesus but kept that to himself. I watched him go from a strong 6' 1'' man able to toss 100lbs and running cranes to a broken thin and frail man in a wheelchair barely able to get himself to the restroom in time. He passed in a coma after a week on life support from heart and lung failure.

    On the first Father's day after his crossing I greeted the Solstice sunrise on Monks Mound in Cahokia Il and gave tobacco and corn to the wind in his honor. He was my Dad.

    And I still miss him.

    Aho, Father. I remember you and honor you.

  • Elizabeth

    If you haven't already, you might check out John's Happy Crappy Mother's Day group. Dennis Dawson suggested some card and t-shirt slogans that could be repurposed for Father's Day. Hilarious. If only someone would make them…

  • Gina Powers

    HOLY CARP….that just makes me want to sob….love and hugs to Cat!!! Oh man…….(shakes head in amazement).

  • Thanks back.

  • Yeah, she had an unbelievably difficult childhood. Just … off the charts bad. Anyway, yeah, as you say, she’s … made it work for her, astoundingly enough.

  • I do. And I think in the main God as Father is a metaphor. And a good and healthy one–a spiritually and emotionally nurturing one–at that. If you’re real/earthly dad was a dick, God as Father really works for you as an antidote to that. If he was wonderful and supportive, then of course God as Father works as an extension. Plus, you know, as a Christian, I do feel like the power that actually, physically sustains me comes from God. That’s pretty … fatherly. Anyway. Duh. Of course Christians have always conceived of God as “Father,” for all the obvious reasons. It works.

  • Diana

    Sometimes, I have questions too. Let’s hope someday we have (good) answers to our questions.

  • Diana

    I can only echo the above comments. You’d never really indicated just how bad bad was for Cat before–you’d just indicated that it was worse for her than it was for you…and yours was hardly a day at Disneyland. I’m glad that the two of you found each other and were whole enough as human beings to love each other in spite of the less than stellar examples your parents set. I admire both of you so much for that.

  • Thanks for this one, John. I just got back home after spending the weekend with my daughter, son-in-law and 3 grandchildren. They help me get through “the day.” I spent too many years depressed on father’s day, missing the dad I never had.

  • God bless you, Ric. Very touchingly said.

  • Gin

    Fantastic post John!

    I like a number of people didn’t have the best of earthly fathers, but growing up, particularly in my teen years I became fully aware of who my real Father was. As a result I have some of the most precious Father-daughter memories from my teenage years when the Lord showed me how precious I was to Him. The love I experienced in those moments are unforgetable, and has taught me a lot about how to love others in my life.

    It’s good to know that others have had this experience too, so, to our Father in heaven I say, Happy Fathers day Dad!