One of my most vivid childhood memories of my father is a game we used to play when we were out and about driving around. He’d look at me, doubtful, from the driver’s seat. “I don’t know if I remember how to get back,” he’d say. “I forgot the directions. Think you can help?”
I felt the monumental weight of the task at hand. I sat up straighter. “Okay,” I would tell him. “At this next stoplight, you need to go right, okay?”
“Yeah.” I’d pause just in case. Although I was pretty sure he hadn’t forgotten – Dad never forgot anything – I felt the weight of my responsibility as navigator. If I’d told him to drive straight, he absolutely would’ve until I reversed our course. “Yeah, yes. Right at the stoplight.”
Step by careful step, I directed us home. And when we pulled into the driveway, I sank back into the seat, proud. We’d made it.
Of course my dad knew how to get home. I could pretend to be a navigator precisely because he was there.
That childhood partnership with my dad echoes now in my day-to-day spiritual life. I know I’m not really in charge, but God my father gives me a similar freedom to take the wheel, so to speak, and navigate through the day-to-day to get to where He wants me to be. And I feel no fear in stepping forward because He is there. He lets me be His partner even though I have very little of use to offer.
And yet I’m aware that my view of God as a father is colored by the kindness and love I’ve received from my own. Not everyone is so privileged.
I was fortunate enough to have a father who never met a stranger. Everyone knows him and respects him. Neighbors. Men he’s worked with in the coal industry. Hunters. Give him the name of a family and he can rattle off decades of their history. He works hard, too. He gets up at the same time every day to drive a truck delivering coal machinery and parts, and he’s never missed except to take a vacation or, once, to nonchalantly drive himself to the hospital mid-heart-attack. He treats everybody the same: from his work superiors to the warehouse guys. People depend on him for help and favors, and though it seems like the entire world has a claim on his attention, he always makes time for my mom and I.
But there are those with cruel fathers, harsh fathers, absent fathers. Fathers who have caused hurt and pain and problems. And for people who have suffered that, I imagine it must be hard to say the word “Father” and feel any warmth or connection. As Father’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking of those people for whom the word might be a painful stumbling block.
To them, I say this: if earthly men have tainted the concept of fatherhood for you, allow God – God who swore to “carry [Israel], as a father carries His son” (Deuteronomy 1:31) to restore and redefine it. Don’t permit that concept to be defined by those who have failed it; allow it to be renewed by the Love from whom our imperfect understanding of the role springs.
And if you are a father, please remember you aren’t alone. Our world is vexed by so many definitions of what it means to be a “man” that most fathers could probably collapse under the weight of it. But in the end, the greatest gift you can give to your children is to be as lovingly yourself as you can be – to show yourself to them in your kindness, your generosity, your integrity, your warmth. God is still sitting in the driver’s seat, but for the time being he’s given the navigation up to you. If you listen to Him and let Him be present, He won’t let you drive too far off course.
Enjoy the ride. And Happy Father’s Day!