I lay on my stomach upon the floor. Colorful markers and construction paper strewn about. I was in the midst of creating something special. Something for my dad. It was to be an accurate portrait of himself — tall, bearded, wearing jeans. I spent quite a bit of time coloring as correctly and as neatly as I could. It looked pretty good to my optimistic, four-year-old eyes.
My older brother came home from school and sat down on the floor next me.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Coloring a picture of dad,” I replied.
“I know what would make this so much better,” he said as he picked up a fluorescent green marker.
He uncapped the marker and drew two big alien antennas sticking out of our father’s head. My heart immediately sunk as I thought to myself, Noo! This is not right. It’s ruined!
My brother burst out in laughter; I didn’t find it funny. I wanted to show love to my dad, and now my drawing was a mockery of him. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just went along with it. We then proceeded to take markers and defame our father’s figure with all sorts of outlandish and insulting alterations.
Ultimately, I chose not to give the picture to my dad out of fear of an outburst of anger with subsequent scolding. I felt conflicted inside and still do when I think of that moment. For the majority of my childhood, I would feel a similar tension regarding my opinion of my father.
Do I love my father and want to please him or find him laughable and aloof or am I fearful of his wrath?
My father was not the greatest man I ever knew, and I learned to develop a deep disdain for him over the years. After an episode where his senseless controlling behavior disrupted some of my creative plans, I ran to my bedroom in a rage and with a dull knife carved the words “I hate my dad” into the back of the door.
My conflicting feelings would be especially heightened around one particular day of the year — Father’s Day. Those two words still send shivers down my spine and tie knots in my stomach.
This “holiday” would be the time when no matter how we felt about Dad, we all had to pretend to like him. Mom made sure of that. She would buy him a set of tools or something practical that he needed and requested the week prior and then tell him it was from all of us.
I would always choose to create my own Father’s Day card which included such cliché phrases as “You are the best,” “So glad you are my dad,” and the dreaded “I love you.”
I never felt any of those words. I didn’t think they were true, but I felt obligated to say them. That’s what this Father’s Day holiday is for, right?
My dad would always be in a strange mood every Father’s Day. Very out of character for himself. He would seem happy and welcome the gifts joyously. He would put his hands on us to say thank you or even force a hug upon us.
On Father’s Day, this single day of the year, we would all act like everything was okay. But it all felt fake. It never felt real. It left me feeling depleted and dried out — estranged from myself and from everyone else.
Father’s Day still brings up those same feelings within me. Am I obligated to show my dad love and attention on this particular day because the calendar tells me to? What if I didn’t want to? What if he didn’t deserve it?
Since becoming an adult and moving across the country, I’ve blamed the distance on why I’ve not reached out to my father on this day. It’s been a good excuse, and I’ve gotten away with it for the most part, though my mother has heaped guilt upon me the following day.
I’ve learned to steer clear of most retail stores approaching Father’s Day. I remember walking into a book store the week before Father’s Day, and they had a display set up: “Books Dad Will Love.” The shelf consisted of literature about beer, pin-up girls, cars, sports history, and grilling meats.
It wasn’t that I just felt disconnected from my father on Father’s Day, but also from my own gender. That’s what makes up a man or a dad?! I don’t want anything to do with this!
I also came to understand that church was to be avoided on Father’s Day. It was not a safe place for me emotionally. They would always make a big deal out of it, asking all the fathers to stand so they can honor them in some trite way. Seeing dads be loving and affectionate with their sons would incite rage and jealousy in me. The pastors would often give a sermon that could be summed up into something like this:
“Our earthly fathers love us so much and would do anything for us, and they are just a small picture of how much our heavenly father, God, loves us.”
I wanted to throw up all over the Bibles and hymnals and little welcome cards that were in front of me. Nothing could make me feel more lonely, more dejected, and more unloved than to say that God was like my dad.
I struggle deeply with seeing God as a father.
That is a strange mystery I’m still learning to understand to this day, and probably will my whole life.
It wasn’t until I was 22 years old that I decided I needed to deal with my father issues. I will write more specifically on these events later. But in short, I came to see that my dad was a broken man just like me. His father was actually worse to him than he was to me. With what he was given, he did better. My dad did the best he could.
Was it good or right? Certainly not! But it’s what it was.
As I became more aware of my own brokenness and failings I came to see that I am no better than my father. Would I have done any better if I was him?
It took everything I had in me, but I forgave my father. Honestly, I still have to choose to forgive him, because I don’t want to.
So, as Father’s Day rolled around this year, I can honestly say that I don’t “hate my dad” anymore. I still don’t feel love for him, nor really like him. But feelings aren’t required to love. We are called to love even our enemies. That doesn’t mean we have to have a relationship with them, though.
As I navigate the stormy seas of father-son relationships, I know that I am not the only one who has deep wounds and disconnect and frustrations. I always assumed that this area of my life was untouchable, un-redeemable, and incapable of healing. Though I haven’t been very optimistic regarding this topic, I have more hope now than I have ever had before.
There is no place of my soul that is unreachable to God. The calloused layers of my heart flake off a little more each year, like a snake shedding its skin. God truly is my real Father, and I am seeking to understand what that title actually means — a redefining of the word “father.” A father is not an angry figure only interested in sports and meat, but a loving guardian seeking to build me a home.
I will not leave you orphans – I am coming to you… If someone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:18; 23
I look forward to that day.
Are Father’s Days difficult for you? How is your relationship with your father? Does it affect how you see and understand God as a father?