I have stalled on this post for a while because writing about fathers requires that I revisit the non-existence of one in my life. While I have chronicled how I feel about him in this post, it is not lost on me that if I write only of my experience, I take away from all the good men who honor the responsibility of manhood and fatherhood. Every day I appreciate the great examples of fatherhood in the people around me and because of social media, the moments captured from around the world.
Currently, I live in a small town in Ohio with a population of about 24,000 people. We have the dreamy coffee shops, eateries with such a homely feel, and the joy of scenic views unperturbed by the havoc of a city. One week into this town and someone offered to buy me pop on a hot summer day. I politely declined because my mother taught me to not take things from strangers and especially not something called pop. I later learned that the nice old lady crowned with a silver hairdo was talking about soda.
A month later I started taking walks and doing runs on the bike path near the river. On most days it was me, a few dog owners, the guy with no shirt on, and the two friends with wasp waists. We knew each other but never exchanged a word. One day I slept in and woke up with the sun in my face. If you follow me on Instagram, you know how I feel about crowds. I am studying the life of Christ and he reads like an introvert who loves people. I totally relate to that because when I am in a crowd I want to listen to people, hug and encourage them. Later, I want to sit in my kitchen and eat rice in silence without talking to anyone.
I deliberated skipping my morning walk and ended up wearing a hoodie and cap for the glaring sun. While on the path, I learned that the sun attracts an even bigger crowd. There were all kinds of dogs and children running around. Then suddenly I caught something that out of a real estate ad. A father, mother, and children playing with Ronnie. The dog looked like a Ronnie. They ran around, rolled over with the kids, a boy and a girl, shrilling for joy. Mum screamed be careful the whole time while the father lifted each child in turns on his shoulders.
This was too normal. My morning partners in crime were always with a pet or alone and this was…different.
When you are in the market for a car, you tend to spot your ideal car in all kinds of colors. I started to see fathers all around me. In the grocery stores, BMV, parks, YouTube videos, Instagram and my immediate neighbors. In my silence, I wondered if the children to these rolling in the grass fathers understood the gift of a father. It is pertinent to note that I live in a predominantly white neighborhood where the father-children culture is different from my African experience.
Fathers kiss their children before they go out on dates. Walk with them in the stores while their children don small shorts. Interact with their children as though they were best friends. The hugs and pecks get me every time.
It is like a veil had been lifted off my heart and I started to imagine a world with a father. Call him when someone pisses me off or to ask about his opinion before making a decision and end the call with, I love you Dad, as I often hear my students talk to their fathers.
The idea of God feels palpable when there is an earthly father who is a representation of the character of God. In no way is an earthly father expected to be God but the tangible experience of a father makes the heavenly father relatable. The reverse is true. God is presented as a loving and caring father who will move heaven and earth for you. Abandon the 99 for you. Hears you and has unconditional love for you.
When your earthly father is nothing like God the father therein lies the confusion. How can there be a father somewhere above who is all-loving and caring when the earthly father is abusive, distant, cold, or absent?
I grew up in church and went to Christian schools for most of my education. I knew who G0d was but my relationship with him was limited to my obedience and His extension of mercy to spare me hell. He felt distant, towering over me and I felt like He was never proud of me.
My earthly father was cut off from me when I was a toddler. The story is told that I was about two years old. It may sound weird but I have scattered images of him in my head. When my mother and I left there was no further contact. From then on all I was told were all the things he did wrong, skimpy details about his character, his drinking, abusive ways and a case of how he was supposed to buy me a shoe to wear to a wedding only to stand my mother up on the day.
Do you understand how skewed my view was then of a Father in heaven who cares for us? All the anger I felt about my father was directed to God.
There was a girl in my high school whose relationship with her father was so beautiful that we all knew she was loved. He spoke of her in high regard and let it be known that she was going to be great. She was a top student and was secure in her identity.
I hated her.
From our conversations, she had a happy childhood and was always protected by her father. Her wholeness unsettled my soul wounds and I expressed it as outright dislike for her. I should probably call her. For a long time before God healed me, I was stuck in my childhood experience and could not define myself outside pain and hurt.
God, like my earthly father, constantly let me down, abandoned me, took pleasure in all His other children but me because I let him down. There are many times that I have struggled with God as a father and it was rooted in what my earthly father represented.
To overcome the resentment I held against my father and projected on God, I prayed to God to introduce himself to me and He did. He swooped in and showed me that He was there the whole time. That it broke His heart when I was in pain. It took a couple of years for me to trust God as a father. He came in and healed everything.
Think about the relationship with your earthly father and how it informs your view of God. There are many people who are angry at God for things that their parents do and they have every right to be mad. In your anger, extend some grace to your parents and guardians. Parenting must be the second hardest thing to do in life after birthing a child. It comes with no manual, no prior experience prepares you and your trauma is always jumping at any sign of weakness.
You have the right to be mad at God because He can handle it but staying mad helps no one. Your earthly father should ideally be a representation of God but we were also not supposed to eat the forbidden fruit but here we are. Instead of holding God hostage for your father’s sins, why don’t you allow God to be the arbitrator of that relationship?
Allow God to introduce Himself to you as a father. He has made it clear how he feels about you and will still come after us despite our pride, ego and did I mention pride? A father is a gift and a good father is a great blessing but even in the absence of one, there is one who cares for you unconditionally.