PREFACE: For the first 35 years of my life, I hated Father’s Day because 1) it reminded me that I did not have a father in my life and 2) it seemed like Father’s Day sermons at church were always opportunities to blast fathers (as opposed to the Mother’s Day where mothers were sainted). Becoming a father has set me on a journey of healing that has found a significant expression in this my Jubilee (50th) year. In the next several servings of Manna, I want to share with you my Reflections on Father’s Day. I pray that they will be a blessing to you or someone you know.
“Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” 2 Corinthians 3:1-3.
When I was 16, my sister became my legal guardian so I could live with her and go to a different high school. One of my responsibilities was to daily escort my 6 year old nephew to and from school. Whether he was motivated by an impish desire to irritate the daylights out of me or that he idolized me as his uncle, Malcolm mimicked everything I did.
The person who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” was not a sixteen year old trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. My nephew’s imitation drove me nuts! But one day that all changed as I came to see life from a different perspective.
I was hiding in our apartment’s stairwell to escape Malcolm’s constant intrusion into my life when a very clear thought came into my head: “You don’t have a choice of whether or not Malcolm will follow you. The only choice is the example you will give him to follow. The only choice is whether years from now you will be embarrassed by or proud of the example you have set.” The truth of that message changed my attitude and set a new course for my life as I took it as a directive from God to live as a role model for this little boy.
I awoke early on Father’s Day morning with my mind filled with the thought of the need to reflect on my changing attitudes about this day. As I did, details of this story flooded my memory and filled my heart and eyes to overflowing. It was not thoughts of the past that created the deeply emotional and spiritual reaction in me, but the reality of the present. It dawned on me how this little boy was now a grown man with little boys of his own and has become a great husband, father and respected leader in the church.
As a man, I know that we often look for validation of our identities through our work or what we do. We are often preoccupied with loading up our resumes in a vain effort to fill the empty spaces in our hearts. But as Paul clearly recognized in his letter to the Corinthian church, the most significant work we can do is pouring out our lives into the lives of others. As a father, there is no more significant work we can do than pouring out our lives into the lives of our children. They are our letter. They are the only recommendation we need to validate our place on earth.
I wish I could say that I have always understood this and reflected it in the allocation of my resources, but that would not be true. It has been a detour and pothole-filled journey for me to come to this place of identity. The absence of my own father and the circumstances surrounding this created dysfunction and holes in my life that only time has revealed and only commitment to change will heal.
As you reflect on Father’s Day, whether you are a parent or a child, if I might, let me offer you some suggestions that I pray will help you as they have helped me:
• Give grace and choose to forgive yourself and others.
• Give space to heal and grow. Our experiences are mistakes only when we fail to learn from or bless others through them.
• Follow God’s plan, do the right thing and trust Him with the results.
Growing as a Dad,