Everyone has a father. But even the best of fathers are “flawed and imperfect.”--to quote that alien invader, wiping out Capt. Kirk’s crew.
What was your father like? What kind of fathering did you have?
Our earthly fathers have defined and shaped us, whether they were absent or present. Mean or doting. Wall St. broker or Boatman.
“Many view father as ‘a competitive and authoritative force that wants to keep the individual from succeeding. It begins in the nursery with the father competing with the child for the mother’s attention. It is why one of the most important events in an adolescent male’s life is the first time he honestly is victorious over his father at something, anything, even something as trivial as a game.’”--Thomas Smail, The Forgotten Father
Well, I’m not male, but I grew up in a male world. And this book has captured my imagination for years, as I watched the men around me. I return to it regularly. It has articulated something I still don’t understand completely, but I believe is a profound truth (which is probably why I don’t understand it; this depth of mystery is often perceived in the spirit but eludes the mind).
The Forgotten Father, required reading for a course I took, merged the psychology of ‘father’ with the theology of ‘Father.’ This sentence dropped like a depth charge into my being: “...‘father’ is nothing less than a quintessential concentration of the central conviction out of which Jesus lived and worked.”
No one I knew was living out of such a conviction! In American culture, ‘father’ is understood as clueless and bumbling, the butt of ridicule. If not absent entirely. We are awash in a fatherless culture.
As a Hebrew, Jesus would have understood something very different: in Middle Eastern cultures, ‘father’ would have been understood as someone to whom absolute obedience and allegiance was due. Jesus was able to give it because of the absolute love and affirmation he was receiving from his Father. Even to the point of accepting the cup of crucifixion, because he trusted the Hand from which it came. Not one raised in anger; one of affectionate authority. This blows my mind.
Out of a morass of language, ‘father’ stuck. Not Savior, Lord, or Redeemer. Not Prophet, Good Man or Myth. Western Christian that I am, I was raised on one of these two categories of thought about Jesus. Words that were either meaningless to me, or false, incomplete. The first category from my religious upbringing, the second from my culture.
I didn’t know how to relate to a Redeemer, really. We don’t have an equivalent in American culture. Father I understood. A father/son relationship I understood. I had four brothers. I grew up watching. My theology began to change.
I had to evaluate my own father in light of this theology. How accurately had he represented the Father, the model of Affectionate Authority? It was a painful exercise. I loved my father, but he had his faults, and I had to acknowledge them, forgive him. Then I had to evaluate how this had colored my perception of God the Father. I passed the course. A lot of distortions died that year. And so did my father.
I never got the chance to tell him all this. He would have loved the theological discussion (and probably hated the psychological one!) Poetry took the brunt of my loss, and replaced the conversations I would have loved to have had with him. Two chapbooks later, I remain in awe and thankfulness, writing poetry, and groping after the mystery.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Happy Father’s Day, Abba, Father.