Sunday, June 15, 2014

For the Fatherless on Father's Day

I know this Father's Day must be difficult for many people around the world.  There are millions of us who perhaps have no living father or no father who is present and brings good into our lives.  A day like today, when people are celebrating their loving and devoted fathers, can be difficult for the rest of us.  I've been estranged from my father for fourteen years now.  Our last conversation was by phone and was a painful one.  Prior to that was a year of mounting tension and anger, culminating in what seemingly was the end of our relationship.  Even after all these years, Father's Day remains a bittersweet day where I am grateful my Dad is still living and well, though he is painfully absent from my life. 

For a long time I felt jealousy, rage, and bitterness toward those who had a devoted father in their lives.  I loathed seeing someone mistreat their Dad or take loving Dads for granted.  I ached, grieved, cried, and tried in more ways than I can count to fill the giant wound inside my heart.  I can't say that I am fully healed, but I can say I've come a very long way.  I've grown and been soothingly stitched up in my hurting parts over the years, and here's how it happened for me.

In the beginning I began leaning on my Father God for EVERYTHING, and I do mean EVERYTHING.  I looked to God for car repairs, help with the rent, an unconditionally loving shoulder when I'd been hurt, laughs, wisdom, and acceptance.  I learned that no other person or thing could fill me the way God can, not even an earthly father, and sometimes I wonder if I had to lose my earthly father in order to learn this painful lesson.  I could have the most wonderful and accepting father on this planet, and not even he could fill the space in my heart created by my Creator.  I am made worthy not because my father loves me, but because God loves me. 

 After God did some emergency surgery on my broken heart, I became well enough to get further stitiches from my husband.  One of my favorite times of the day is when my husband tucks in our thirteen year-old daughter for bed.  The fact that she's 13, first of all, and he still tucks her in (and she still wants him to!) says a lot about him.  Often I sit outside her room and listen to the two of them going through their bedtime ritual.  I can't hear everything they are saying and it's not really important to me; what's important is that their voices are low and serious, punctuated with her giggles or his laughter at her.  What's important to me is that the conversation lasts well beyond what can be considered "tucking in" and is clearly more than that for them too.  It is a time when this father is enjoying his daughter, giving her his time, and showing her through this ritual that she matters.  As he fathers her, he fathers me.  I sit outside her bedroom door and feel my broken heart be further stitched that I am married to a man who loves our daughter in this way.  I am healed when she seeks him out and moves into his arms.  She knows there is safety and unconditional acceptance there.  When my husband sacrifices sleep and time (his two most valuable assets these days) in order to be with our children, I am healed, fathered, and made whole.

It's not just in how he loves them but in how he loves me too.  My biological Dad had 18 years with me.  That was 18 years he was given to pour into me whatever he wanted me to have, either good or bad.  It was shortly after that that he exited my life, so in this last 18 years the man who has loved me is my husband.  He's had the same amount of time to also pour into me, and what he's given me in those years is his complete devotion and consistent love.  If I want it, he gets it.  If I need it, he'll take care of it.  If I'm crying, he tries to fix it.  If I'm mad, he tries to calm me.  If I'm lonely, he makes me laugh.  He's good.  Really good.  And it's taken his 18 years of him "re-parenting" me for me to get it. 

I've learned something really exciting about how love works:  when you let yourself receive even a little of it, your eyes become opened to even more.  As I've allowed myself to be loved fully by both God and my husband, I've come to see the many other men that God has placed in my life.  Men who do what a father is supposed to do for a woman.  For a girl, our Dad is the template of how to relate with a man and receive love that has nothing at all to do with sex.  So many women never had this, and the first love they ever received from a man was through the attention and value assigned via sex.  They confused sex with love and thus, never learned that love from a man can exist entirely separate from any activity that occurs in a bedroom.

There is a very sweet man who runs the car shop beside my office.  He's been tuning and repairing my vehicles for 14 years now and will drop everything in a second if he knows I need help.  This man has left his own place of work to come fix my broken car in the parking lot at my office.  When he sees me walk in the door, he smiles and always has something sweet to say.  He is kind, attentive to me, and takes good care of me, wanting nothing in return-- except for payment for the oil change, of course, but trust me, he's not making a fortune changing my oil.

There's another sweet man at my work who keeps all my electronic needs taken care of.  If he knows my computer is on the blink, a charger cord has a short, or a phone line is down, he will drive clear across town to take care of me.  He has offered to build a home computer for me, has made the same repair over and over despite my own user error, gives the equipment out of his own office so I won't have to do without, and does all of it with a genuine smile on his face.  He and I have worked together for years and one day he said to me, "Ms. Greene, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I just want you to know that you always look so lovely."  My heart melted and I knew that God had put those anointed words in his mouth.  It's one thing when a man is attracted to you and pouring on the flattery, it's an entirely different feeling when a man compliments your appearance with no sexual undertone at all.  It's the kind of thing a father should do, and I received it from this friend with an open heart.

Today I've seen Father's Day specials on television, watched neighborhood fathers grilling with their families, and seen countless Facebook pictures of friends with their Dads; and for every single act of love I've seen today I allowed it to heal me further.  When I hear about a Daddy who spent hours building a swingset in the heat of June, I am healed.  When I watched one neighbor take a walk with his infant son strapped to his chest, I was healed.  For every man who loves their children with complete abandon and unconditional love, you father me too.  I can't explain it, but it fills me with such joy and hope.  I am buoyed by the fact that there are indeed many, many men in this world who want nothing more than to put a smile on the faces of their children and wives today, my own sweet hubby included.

I write this because I know I'm not alone when it comes to the absence of a biological father.  I counsel men and women everyday who have a mean father, a father they've never met, or maybe a Dad who is no longer living.  And what I can offer to us is the assurance that we do not have to grow up as orphans in this world.  I don't have to be poor, pitiful Melissa whose Daddy doesn't want her.  No, I've allowed myself to receive and be healed by the love offered to me from many men in my life and I am not fatherless.  Happy Father's Day to all of the men who want nothing more than to put a smile on my face.  I love you and appreciate you.  And Happy Father's Day to the men who love our children of the world.  You father us all.