I don’t feel like I really know your story until I hear about your dad.
Was he the quintessential hero? Have you already started writing his biography? Is he the obvious namesake of your first-born son? I hope so. These are my favorite stories.
Others are more painful to hear. Some father wounds are so pronounced that they leave no appropriate timetable for healing, and we bank on the promise of a future resurrection guaranteeing its certainty. If this is your story, then I’m sorry and I’m only partially writing to you.
In my experience it seems that most describe a lukewarm father who was neither completely absent nor totally present. It’s not that he was terrible; he just wasn’t a standout. Some days he was hard to trust and hard to follow. His shortcomings inflicted wounds that became scars. And from these scars we all tell our stories.
Your story is shaped by the dad who chose—or chose not—to raise you. There’s no getting around this. He influenced your life, for better or worse. But as I hear your stories, I’ve noticed a trend: Some of us are spending too much time on the worst parts of dad, especially when they might explain the less flattering parts of ourselves.
Maybe you think you’d be less irritable if your father hadn’t been so angry all the time or more disciplined if he hadn’t been so lazy. Many of us could fill in the blanks with something: “If dad hadn’t been ____, then I’d be more____.”
There’s no question that many of us experienced less-than-ideal childhoods, but plenty have nursed these wounds for a long time. Healing comes over time with the right balm and requisite patience. But even our smallest wounds become nasty and infected when we aggravate them and let them fester.
For some of us, one of the easiest (and sometimes cheapest) ways to justify our shortcomings is to overemphasize what dad didn’t do well.
Shifting blame runs in our collective family history. Adam blamed his wife for their unfavorable circumstances, too (Gen. 3:12). He was cursed by the consequences of his own free choice, yet he elevated Eve’s indiscretions to save face and repel the sting of his shame. Despite Eve’s failure, God still held Adam accountable, whose blood still courses through our veins to this day (Gen. 3:17).
Fortunately, there’s great news. God knew all about your dad before you did. He never needed your father to be perfect and won’t allow you to blame your shortcomings on him. Where your father consistently failed, God is grieved by the fractured image of fatherhood. But please don’t confuse a shadow with its substance.
God Himself intends to accentuate every fatherly triumph and make up for every fatherly failure. He is our perfect Father. Being the “apple of His eye” comes standard with our adoption, not to mention an imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance, thanks to Jesus, your sacrificial Brother.
This news should invite gratitude and perspective into every detail of your story, especially when it comes to your dad. When your dad was a hero, thank God for a preview of His greater glory. And when your dad failed, be thankful for the certainty that God never has or will. Let the balm of a perfect Father heal any wounds from your own and be careful when confidently explaining away your failures by his. We’re more sinful and weak than we’ll ever know.
If I ever had the chance to meet your dad, I hope we would talk about you. I hope he’d describe a son or daughter who lived forgivingly and talked about grace often. Squeeze out every possible gift God has given you through your earthly father. If possible, let him know of the gratitude in your heart for him. Gratitude, after all, makes the wounds of a Savior and smiles of a Father all the more clear.