When Fathers are Imperfect: You Call This Love?

No, I won’t be re-blogging all summer long. I just read this from two years ago and decided it’s still a fitting tribute. I hope you all have wonderful Father’s Day memories and, if not, can at least thank your father for making you you…because you’re fantastic!

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Not everyone loves Fathers’ Day.

Did you have the perfect dad, someone who attended every sporting event, band concert, and scout ceremony? Who knew your friends’ names and read the articles you wrote for the school paper?

I didn’t. My dad barely knew me, and he attended nothing—not even my high school graduation.

Dads are a strange lot. When we’re young we think they’re perfect, but for most of us, at some point we learn the truth: that they’re human, and we’re disappointed.

What was that moment for you?

Perhaps your dad was away on business on your birthday one year and he didn’t call.

Or maybe he promised to bring you something and then forgot.

Perhaps he committed an unspeakable shame that your mother forbade you to talk about, even  with your best friend.

Perhaps one day, when you needed him more than ever, he looked the other way.

Or worse, walked out of your life.

Maybe he died before you even got to know him, and all you have of him is a photograph in a tiny frame.

Or maybe you don’t even know who he is.

I believe there’s a place in everyone’s heart set aside for loving a father, and we long for that love, but it doesn’t always look as we expect it to.

My dad was tough, a U.S. Marine, private first class. He fought with the First Marine Division in Korea, where one day a piece of shrapnel sliced through his head like a band saw. The Corps sent him home with a metal plate in his head and a glass eye, and a prediction that he wouldn’t live to 25. He beat the odds, married, fathered nine children, and died at the age of 64 in 1997. Love wasn’t part of his vocabulary.

Still, I know without a doubt that my father loved me, even though he only said it once. I was around 35, and home for Christmas, unaware that it would be the last time I’d see him alive. He mumbled, “luv ya” at the door when we were saying good-bye. I was so surprised I asked him to repeat himself, but he wouldn’t.

If I had measured his love for me according to outward affection, I’d be one hurtin’ puppy. In fact, I remember standing beside his easy-chair every night, waiting for my bedtime kiss. He’d touch his palm to his lips, turn his hand over, and slap me on my forehead. That was love.

Oh, how I despised him sometimes. Many times. He let me down; he let my brothers and sisters down, each one in a different way; and he let my mother down in the worst way. He never read to me. He got himself fired every time we were about to be ok. And he died, way too soon.

Oh, how I loved him. He was a good man. He made us all laugh. He could fix just about anything, and he loved dogs. We joked that he treated his dogs better than he treated his kids, but I challenge my siblings to consider this: he treated us just like his dogs. He wrestled with us, took us out on the water so we could feel the ocean breeze blow through our hair, and he always made sure we were fed. That was love.

Dad and his father

Dad and Grampa. Don’tcha just want Gramps to pull him closer?

Dad’s own father was more than strict; he’d been hardened by events of World War I and the Depression, and by a secret past he didn’t want anyone to know about. To his children, he was as cold as ice.

So here’s my epiphany: Nobody taught my dad how to “do” fatherhood, so he did the best he could with what he knew. I believe my dad was determined to be what his father was not—warm, funny, and adventurous. He took the good from his dad, too, like a hard-working spirit and a sense of responsibility for family. We often went without, but we were always sheltered and fed (I know Jo, but a tent is shelter). You see, he could do the opposite of his father’s example and he could mimic those traits in his father he admired, but he couldn’t create a picture of what love looked like by watching a man who didn’t love.

I forgave Dad for being human long ago. He gave me my sense of humor, pride for my country, and a special fondness for the ocean. As a parent, I’ve tried to retain the good from his example and forget the rest. I’ve disappointed my sons many times, but I think I’m closer to getting the love part right because I saw into my dad’s heart, to who he wanted to be but didn’t know how. I pray my sons come even closer with their children.

I know now that there’s only one perfect Father, and He has shown us everything we need to know about love. He loved us first so we could watch and learn. I sowish my dad had known Him.

Regardless of where you stand this Fathers’ Day, there’s something you can do to make it a meaningful day:

If you’re angry at your dad, forgive him.

If your father is still here, tell him you love him.

If he’s gone, remember the good things about him.

If your heart is aching because you never knew a father’s love, call to the one true Father. He won’t let you down.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Forks and Eyeballs: My Boy’s All Right

This is the calm before the storm.

In just over an hour I’ll pick up my 17-year-old and head to a nearby elementary school so he can usher in the first of three delivery trucks. From there a chaos will erupt that should last through Sunday.

My son is running on empty. We’ve had a busy few weeks and I worry he’s going to reach stress-fracture stage soon. He’s been to every hardware and garden center in the region, soliciting supplies and donations. He’s been trying to run regularly because there’s a timed running test coming up. He spent three days working a youth yard sale, where he lifted, on-loaded, off-loaded, and then, after sale, re-loaded heavy furniture until he was so spent he could barely stay awake for the ride to the Junior Prom that night, but he did his part.

Yet, he keeps going.

I was watching him Wednesday at MANDATORY band practice putting everything he had into finding the right cords on his piano. To look at him, you wouldn’t know he’d just left another hour-long after-school session of Driver’s Ed, or that he would leave this practice and change in the car on the way to scouts. (Yes, moms, I made him eat something.)

I watched him at the scout meeting, discussing building and planning issues with the adults and cajoling friends and new scouts to give up their Saturday mornings and come help him put six garden beds together at the school—one for each grade. He looked so grown up and at ease. Only Mom and Dad knew about the history project weighing on his mind that he’d had to push to after the meeting (when we arrived home at 9:30 p.m.), or that he’d be taking his driving test the next day and could really use a good night’s sleep.

Nothing on his plate is difficult, but many milestone events are intersecting – driving test, Eagle Scout project, final exams, running, Youth Sunday at the church, and oh yes, homework. I actually let him sleep in one morning this week and then do his homework, missing first period (shhh – probably frowned upon in Academia, but sometimes common sense steps in).

Through it all, he has remained focused and outwardly calm. Of course, his eyes close every second that he isn’t busy, but he’s remarkably on the ball otherwise. We haven’t even had the usual struggle to get chores completed. The trash disappears as if by magic, animals get fed, and the dishwasher keeps emptying.

I can’t find my boy anywhere.

down time

Prom prep. Making use of all time available…

The mom in me wants so much to rescue him from this stressful time, take something from his plate, baby him a little longer. But the parent in me sees how much he’s growing as he deals with unanswered emails, typos on fliers, and confusion over deliveries, and feels only pride. I’m seeing a man develop here, one with deep convictions about responsibility and one who is learning early that if you can’t do it all, just do what’s next. As long as you do your best, that’s all you can do.

But the greatest aspect of all this is seeing him pray. We pray every morning for stamina, endurance, and wisdom, and he is aware that his life and all these activities are in God’s hands, so we have peace despite the brewing storm. Although he’s acutely eager to do a good job tomorrow and has put a lot of effort into making this project come together, I know he understands it’s but a blip in eternity and that his relationship with the Lord is more important than anything else.

Yes, he passed his driver’s test yesterday, and by the end of tomorrow will have built his garden beds. He will play with the band Sunday and then write an after-action report on the project and start studying for finals. He may not pass the physical fitness test with flying colors (sorry Jim), but he will pass because he will do his best.

forks and eyeballs

Because you never know…

I walked into his room a few minutes ago, pondering where my little boy might have gone. The LEGOs are gradually being pushed aside to make room for an expanding coin collection, children’s’ books have been replaced by thick hardcover novels, and I see few remnants of his childhood. I made my way to his desk and open the top drawer. I needed to look no further. My boy is still here. He may be a man on the outside, strong, honest, hard-working, kind, funny, and capable, but as long as he always has at least one drawer filled with forks and eyeballs, I’ll know he isn’t taking life too seriously.

Charles, I admire you and the man you are becoming. The pride in my heart is indescribable. I love watching you grow and mature, and take on new responsibilities. I will not worry because I know God’s hand is on you, and he knows where you’re heading and what he’s preparing you for. Take God seriously, not life, and you’ll be fine.

Now, about those forks…

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Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.—Proverbs 16:3