I spied Molly’s Father’s Day card for me earlier this week. I shouldn’t have looked because it was a surprise but she left it in a very public place. I was just cleaning!
The one phrase I read, a quintessential nine-year-old thought, was: ‘Thank you for being the best Dad in the world. And you still are.’
I appreciated her grasp of the past and present tense and was chuffed that I managed to cling to the ‘world’s best’ title beyond the moment she finished writing the first sentence!
Each of us has varied tales of our experiences of fatherhood. Some are rich, storied, loving, and precious. Some, a patchwork of pain and conflict, abuse and toxicity—a struggle to be survived rather than a catalyst to thrive. Or a void to grieve; a space never filled for lack of a father in their lives. Many more will lay claim to a mixed bag; some parts glowing, some parts heads-scratchingly bizarre.
While wanting to resist locating in myself in a category, that wouldn’t be authentic. I’m reflecting, not commentating. I’m a mixed bag of a son. The highs—and there are many—have been high. The lows—which I do not intend to qualify—have also left their mark.
Our experiences of fatherhood shape us. They become a collection of experiences through which we filter our approach to life…and to parenting. Sometimes it’s with a resolve that we will ‘never be that or do that’, other times it’s aspirational: ‘if I provide my children with the security and love that I enjoyed as a child, that would be success for me.’ Perhaps it’s not unusual for us to have a foot in both camps.
Amidst my mixed bag, my earthly father has been a frail model of unconditional love. I can’t recall manipulation nor expectation being a part of the modus operandi of his expressions of love to me as I grew up, only that I could depend on this love.
Like the time Fi and I took off for our honeymoon and I left my wallet in the departure lounge only to have Fi’s wallet pickpocketed in Vietnam a few days later. Suddenly cashless in an unknown country, I figured Dad would probably have a plan. Sure enough, 24 hours later, we were making our way to a nondescript office building where a ‘friend of a friend of a friend’ warmly greeted us with a wad of cash to see us through.
Or any of the too many times my VW Beetle with the dodgy fuel gauge ran out of fuel and he met me roadside with a jerry can.
Or the time when my dog, Fella, was on her last legs. Sitting in the emergency room at Murdoch Vet at 3 am being wrenched apart while she wailed with the excruciating pain of a brain tumour, in walked Dad. I still remember his words: “I was praying for you and Fella, and I felt so helpless to do anything and thought, ‘well, at least I could be there,’ so I hopped in the car.” With a hug and some tears, we rubbed our hands down Fella’s side as she lost control of most of her bodily functions. Messy business.
That’s called ‘incarnational love’. Turning up, being there. It’s a shadow of the perfect love that Jesus has for us.
I have realised over the years the deep assurance that my dad’s love has given me. No doubt demonstrated to ever deeper levels in the love my Heavenly Father has for me, but each has given me a calm optimism that whatever my predicament, it will be ok. Things will be fine. Things are working together for good.
The Big Table sang a song this morning that reminded me again of the perfect love expressed in Jesus.
You’re a good, good Father
It’s who you are…
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am…
My identity is established and made secure by the love that Jesus has for me. It redefines me because it’s founded in His goodness and expressed in His love. It changes who I am not because I earn nor qualify for this love, but because He loved me first. Before I could say a word of defense, He met my need.
He turned up at the vet. When my heart was frangible, He put on skin to rescue me.
In my sickness and searching, He provides answers. In my desperation, He supplies my needs before I’ve even shaped words around them.
Who I am is made evident by who He always was, and the deeper my revelation of His love for me, the truer my understanding of who I am. I’m wrapped up in that love.
I have never loved like that. I will never love with that level of undiluted purity. But I can know that love. I can enjoy a love that is perfect in its expression. It doesn’t render the love of an earthly father irrelevant, but it gives a deeper clarity of the unmeasurable, unfathomable love of Jesus.
As a Dad, my greatest aspiration is to be some shadow of His love. A love-shadow cast by Jesus.
To ramp up Molly’s sentiment to infinity, Jesus is forever FOR us. And He still us. The one who will never leave us or forsake us is forever for us. He’s a good, good Father.