Father’s Day is a loaded day for me. Primary children get up and sing to their daddies, some gifty is passed out, talks about fathers by various people, a hymn here and there. It is supposed to be a day of sweetness, but there is always something missing, and in my case, several things missing.
The first thing missing: my children. It is wonderful to see happy kids sing to their dads, but I would rather mine be sitting next to me. They are 1,300 miles away and have been for most of the six years I have been without them. While I hear women tell me stories about how they endeavor to keep the kids in contact with disinterested men, that isn’t my experience. I make a lot of attempts to talk to my kids, to be involved in their lives, but they are hard to get a hold of. I came back from Ireland for my little girl’s birthday in Idaho. I ride my motorcycle through storms, doing upwards of 600 miles a day, and seek every opportunity to see them, despite having been unemployed and/or in medical recovery. I pay for iPhones to see them, call them, and text them. I hurt to see my kids and feel every moment of angst that I am missing out on the doldrums, mundanity, chaos, and mayhem of having kids cavorting about my space. I will physically injure myself and sacrifice my comfort for three hours of time with them, and have done so. My kids love me, miss me, and make it very well known how important I am to them, as I do with them.
The second thing missing: memories of a father that would go out of his way for me. Until I had kids, Father’s Day was a non-holiday. My father was aloof, distant, and harsh at best; violent, abusive, and intolerant of my existence at worst. He missed my high school graduation, participated in only one of my ordinances, and was threatened by my mother to attend my Army basic training graduation. I was 37 by the time he actually signed a birthday card by his own hand, most coming with a laser printed label slapped inside, if I received one at all. This was my experience of a father.
Today is Father’s Day, but it has a new meaning to me now. Not because of the father, the daddy, I am trying to be to my kids, and not because, by pure dumb luck, my father attempted to make amends a month before he died. No, I think of my Father in Heaven, the perspective I had throughout my life and, until a moment of pure spiritual recognition, that I had it all wrong.
I was angry pretty much most of my life. I remember being a happy kid, but I don’t remember it being often. My memories of childhood are almost all of loneliness punctuated with violence. Of course, there were some good times, but often, those times would end in violence of some sort. Starting in my early teenage years I stopped smiling, laughing, or being happy – it was all about survival. Once, when I was about 16, I was scraping frost off of the front windshield of my father’s Chevy Citation. The car rolled forward onto my foot. I slowed my scraping of the window, hoping beyond all hope that the car would eventually roll a little bit further so I could free my foot. It hurt like hades, but I was more afraid that if I told him that the car was on my foot, he would pop the clutch and peel out. Some may be laughing right now, thinking I am being dramatic, but no, it was a genuine fear, born of years of perniciousness.
A pernicious, aloof, and violent person – that is who I believed Father in Heaven to be, also. I carried that paradigm until January, 2014. I never felt like I had a relationship with Him; I always felt I just had to stay out of the way of God. I felt like all my hardships were because my Father in Heaven was pernicious, I felt like the silence in my life was due to his aloofness. I believed that I didn’t matter to Him, because He already had Jesus Christ, so I was always going to be an imperfect nuisance.
How often are our perceptions of the Gospel, especially for our Father in Heaven and our Brother, Jesus Christ, based entirely on our familial experiences? If your brother tortured you and mocked you, maybe trusting your Brother, Jesus, is a lot more difficult. My father raised me to believe that a father doesn’t like his kids, they were a hindrance, so, I believed, was the attitude of my Father in Heaven as well.
Then, in January of 2014, I had my epiphany. I was writing my history (140,000 words in 11 days) and was able to compress my life’s experiences in a way not often possible. I had started writing about how hard it was to allow myself to show affection to my children and how I was intent on breaking the chain. I had also been writing about my conversion 2.0, and how I felt about Heavenly Father before my Enos prayer. Then it hit me, hard as a brick, loud as a cymbal crash:
Father in Heaven is not the man my father was to his children, Father in Heaven is the man I am trying to be to my children.
Father in Heaven is loving, caring, affectionate, long suffering, patient, and is far from aloof. He knows me and has angst Himself at my long silences. He misses me. He yearns to hear from me, He weeps at my pain and dances with my joys. He wraps his loving arms around my shoulders when I need comfort and support. He soothes my wounded heart.
Instead of being celebrated for the fathers we are, we should use this time to refocus our goals to being the father our Father wants us to be. We should enjoy the gifts, the sweet primary songs, and the cookies. But we should also enjoy loving, hugging, playing with, and reminding our children that despite our absence, whether by work or divorce, we are always present, always full of love.
Father’s Day is a day to remember that our Father in Heaven is our example of how to be a father to our children. In this way we have a very unique opportunity to have a small taste of what our Father feels for us. We have the opportunity to love as we are loved.