My father and I had a rather distant connection for the past 30 or so years. In many ways we were estranged, though it seems strange to call it that. Mostly, we just didn’t talk or connect.
I last saw him in September of 2010 when my oldest daughter was looking at colleges, and we were in the area he lived. We met at a restaurant with my older brother and his family, along with dad and his wife. A fairly large group, so not much was discussed other than the events of the day.
Why didn’t we talk? Well, I’m not really certain the real reason. He left my mom when I was in college, and the connection was never re-established after that. The first decade we had more interaction. He came to my wedding, which none of my siblings can claim. He met my kids when they were young, though they don’t remember it. When I visited my Mom, we would try to get together with Dad as well, though it had to be on my initiative.
A title or a name
Regardless of the connection, I always have called him Dad. For many people, that name denotes a relationship that is personal, and special. For me, it was really like any other name of a person.
I could have called him Ken, but that seemed weird. I grew up calling him Dad, so that was his name. When telling others about him, I would refer to him as “My Dad.” Seemingly, as if there was a personal connection with him that was mine. But for the title or name used, we didn’t have a relationship.
I’m not sure he knew most of the things of importance to me in life. He did know that I love Jesus and serve Him, though that wasn’t something he celebrated. I know the general complaint, though I’m not sure exactly what happened. He was deeply hurt by the church. Therefore, my belief and life seemed to be hurtful to him.
Relationship is a two-way street
For me, a relationship is a shared life. Two people that interact on a regular, ongoing basis. Both investing time, energy, effort, and emotion into the other person. Some relationships are closer than others, but they all have that shared investment.
Looking back at the last 30 years, I see several times that I could have done things differently with my Dad. Why didn’t I? Sometimes, I was just too angry to make the effort. Other times, I was selfish and wanted him to reach out. No good reasons, just the reality of two imperfect men missing out on what could have been.
When I tried, he didn’t respond. So why keep trying? I quit for a while. But the last few years I have attempted to connect. Maybe I could have done more. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered how much I did. I’ll never know. The reality is that we didn’t have a relationship.
There were definitely years that I did not invest any effort in my Dad. I had my hurts and issues that, for too long, I held against him. When I truly learned about forgiveness and did the hard work required, I was able to see Dad in a different way.
I began sending Father’s Day cards and Christmas cards, and even remembered his birthday with a card a few times. We can only assume that he received all these cards because there was never an acknowledgement of them. I realize that I grieved my loss of him every year as I stood in the card aisle.
Grieving what wasn’t
I’m not sure when I started grieving. The first several years I was just mad for how he left and the hurt caused to my mom and siblings. It was a lot of work to deal with what he had done, and especially what he had not done, and come to a place of forgiveness.
Grief is a strange thing. Each of my siblings is grieving differently as we are all in a different place with losing dad. I’ve been grieving him for a very long time. My grief now seems inappropriately small, but then I realize that I’ve done a lot of grieving him for years.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to Dad on the phone. He was lucid and knew who I was, unlike the time I called a couple months back. I told him some about my kids and what they were doing. No real interest in my life, so I kept the sharing shallow. The call ended strangely. No goodbyes, just talking and then his step-daughter was on the phone.
Dallas asked how I was doing after the call. The only description I could come up with was “ambivalent.” Not sad, not emotional, just a wonder of it being strange. That’s not how it should be when a son talks to his father who is dying. Is something wrong with me? I should feel something, right?
I hope that my siblings don’t interpret where I am as not caring. In reality, I care a lot. It just looks different than the normal son when his father dies. I guess I’m not normal, though I’ve not claimed to be for most of my life.
Viewing God through earthly lenses
When we think about God the Father, we often will view Him through the lens of our human relationships. Obviously, if I look at my heavenly Father the same way as my earthly father, I’m going to have a wrong view. But it’s what we know, so it seems to be common.
Father God wants to walk in relationship with us. He wants to have a two-way interaction. Investing in us as we invest in Him. Talking regularly, sharing our feelings and emotions, asking questions and listening to responses, being involved in the big and small things.
Sometimes, we walk away and think that He doesn’t want to participate in our life. We may get angry about something He allowed to happen. We may even blame Him for causing the painful event.
There are times when we cry out, and it seems like silence coming back. I don’t know why it is like that at times. I’ve experienced those times of silence. They are hard; so very hard. It seems uncaring and harsh. Things that are not in God’s character.
What do we do with the hurts of silence? Personally, I tend to throw a big tantrum and yell louder. I remember one time I had to pull off the road and just yell and scream at God. It was ugly in the car that day. At the end of my tantrum, I heard God quietly say, “I love you son.” And that was it. No other answer, no explanation, no resolution. Just, “I love you son.”
I’ve come to appreciate those words very deeply. While I would like an explanation, I’m thinking that I wouldn’t understand even if He gave me one. My desire for resolution has given way to my simply being a beloved son. My true identity – a beloved son of God. What better position to be in than that of a beloved son?
Regardless of what happens in life, I know exactly who I am. There are so very many things that I don’t understand. Many, many things that I think are wrong, or should be done differently. Yet, I know He is good and I am His. He is God and I am not. There is security in simply being a beloved child of the most high God.
Since writing the above post, my dad passed from this life on April 3, 2021. The Lord was exceedingly gracious and gave me another phone call with Dad prior to his passing. I got to tell him that I love him and say goodbye. He called me “son” and told me that he loved me. Precious words that I’d waited years to hear. That call ended with me in tears, not ambivalent. I trust he is in the mercy and grace of the Lord.
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