Father’s Day by it’s very nature is not all that jazzy of a holiday. Dad’s are really hard to buy gifts for, especially since few of us wear ties anymore! And how do you celebrate someone who thinks “Hey, pull my finger!” is a funny joke?
But there’s the more serious problem that many are fatherless. By this I mean not only people whose fathers have died (like me), or disappeared, or generally been a combination of disappointment and dependable. But also those who suffered fathers who were abusive. Maybe your dad simply didn’t earn his own day.
How do those of us in those categories survive Father’s Day much less thrive in it?
Acknowledge the Trauma of Loss Despite It All
Many of us tolerate Father’s Day. Some despise it. Many ignore it.
My dad died of a heart attack on Thursday, June 13, 1968. Father’s Day fell on Sunday, June 16 and we buried Dad on Monday, June 17. Father’s Day carries significant tattered baggage for me and my siblings.
Therefore, I ignored it—until June 20, 1982.
In reality, I avoided remembering not only Father’s Day but also the day of Dad’s death and burial. Even today, after 53 years, I had to look those dates up to make sure I had them correct.
For years I avoided visiting his grave because I wept so bitterly each time I did. I avoided thinking positively about him. He was banished from all family conversation save commenting on his negative traits.
But refusing to acknowledge my grief and the dates that marked it suspended me in a stage of grief I call flailing desperation. Read more about that here. I frantically turned to anything that would potentially alleviate the pain. But my self-constructed wall couldn’t contain my raging grief and it burst out like a volcano at the least breach.
I’ve seen this same unhealthy pattern in others as well. They refuse to mark the days that would uncover the grief, thinking it will simply disappear. But like an unattended splinter it festers.
God’s Response to our Grief
God, as you would expect, has a different approach. Holidays!
God freed Israel after being enslaved by Egypt for 480 years, and instituted Passover. This was a yearly feast that featured many elements but also a tasting of bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of slavery. Through festivals and special days God wants us to embrace not only our joy but our trauma so that we can see the meaning only God can wring from it.
After my first daughter was born in March of 1982, with very little effort of my own, I miraculously moved from fatherless to being a father. Because of the loss of my dad, even as an immature twenty-four year-old, I knew what was at stake! And I was no match for the job. But then on June 20, 1982 The Redheaded-Wildflower gave me a Hallmark Father’s Day card and confirmed me as a dad. That day began an astounding healing of my father wound! I imagined how much my dad would love my daughter. I wept. My moods swung from joy to despair. I began to remember positive things he did. And worried more about the negative. I asked, What if I too died and left my family alone? What if I made the mistakes my dad made?
God, help me!
Acknowledging Trauma Builds Resilience
I’m not asking you to celebrate a hurtful or non-existant father. People who work with trauma describe it like a 55” blaring tv in the corner you cannot turn off. But by working to face the trauma, you build a resilience that is akin to shrinking the tv and it’s volume in your life.
Trauma like grief never goes away. Grief is love that has lost it’s physical place holder. Facing grief builds resilience and resilience in the end becomes health.
I’ve been far from a perfect father. But becoming one and facing Father’s Day and its complexity of both sadness and joy for me has been God’s surgical table for my healing. And it all began by the destruction of my wall of despair and then facing my worst trauma. Father’s Day.
And the surprising, redemptive aspect? Over forty years of pastoral ministry and counseling, I cannot count the fatherless people whom God has used me to help in his healing of their father wounds.
Maybe you’re one!
And happy Father’s Day.
Thank you for filling the world with glimpses of your goodness and grace. Your creation shouts your name. Even fatherhood reflects your glory. In your word you tell us to rejoice with those who rejoice. Today we rejoice in your gift of fathers. We are grateful that they have taught us everything from silly jokes to how to worship you. They have fed us and tickled us and disciplined us and shown us everything from how to color in and out of the lines to how to change a tire—and even how to pray. Thank you, God, that in your unfathomable wisdom you have used mere humans—birth fathers, stepfathers, adoptive fathers, spiritual fathers, and even imperfect fathers—to reflect what you are as a Father.
God, for each father—and father to be—renew in us the sacred calling of fatherhood. Forgive us where we have failed as fathers and as children. Give us grace to better reflect you in our daily lives. For those of us who are, even imperfect fathers, empower us to be more like you, to step in the gap of fatherlessness in our communities.
And Lord God, we mourn with those who mourn on this day. Comfort and encourage those whose fathers did not reflect even the barest of your image, those who have lost their fathers, been abused by fathers, never knew a father. Console those fathers who have lost children, or cannot be fathers themselves. Take them in your arms in a way only you, their heavenly Father can. Whisper your love in their ears. Give them the grace to forgive, the ability to hope, and the will to patiently wait for your redemption of the pain of fatherlessness.
And God, give us all a vision for what it means to be in sacred relationships the way you are as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen