According to Wikipedia, “Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.” Some people are fortunate enough to grow up with a father that they felt close to and could talk to about most anything. One that mentored them or maybe even coached their extracurricular activities, cheering them on from the sidelines and making them feel cherished. In other words, a father that was not just present but active in their everyday life. Since I had neither, Father’s day for me was merely another day of family obligation.
The world saw my father as a great man. He was self-made. Growing up as the son of rural teachers and tenant farmers, he put himself through medical school and became a renowned Cardiologist. A brilliant humanitarian, he truly desired to make the world a better place. He was a pioneer in his field, training under the inventor of Angioplasty, which became the first successful alternative to heart bypass surgery. He went on to perform thousands of these procedures, some with multiple lesions that no one else would even attempt. He tested and became an expert on many other invasive techniques and built one of the largest practices in his Tri-State area. He mentored hundreds of younger cardiology fellows as a professor at the local university and even started a cardiology clinic in a struggling nation abroad. He definitely left his mark.
But, like many great men whose careers consumed them, as a father, he left a lot to be desired. In his defense, his role model was physically present in his life but emotionally unavailable and often, depressed. My grandfather took his unhappiness out on his wife and children and since my father was the oldest, he suffered the most. Hence, he had no idea how to be a father when I came along while he was in med school. He tried to make his marriage with my mother work but, both of them had serious childhood baggage so he opted to quit and start over. It was one of the few things in life that he started and didn’t finish.
My father repeated the patterns he learned from his father, although more mitigated, particularly since he lived 2 states aways. I spent most holidays and summers with his new family yet even when I was there, he usually wasn’t. When he was at home, he was often exhausted and in desperate need of quiet rest. I usually felt like I was in the way. I desperately needed his affirmation and approval and he was unable to give what he never received himself as a child.
Don’t get me wrong, we had our moments of tenderness and connection. I admired him so much and in many ways he was my hero. Not only was he a great doctor, but, he was an accomplished athlete and musician. Some of my best memories are of the parties he and my stepmother would throw at their estate home in the country. As an audiophile with all the latest equipment and a den turned disco by night, we would party to the wee hours dancing to Motown and the Billboard Top 100 (he even subscribed to the magazine). But, my strong will combined with his authoritarian discipline left scars of fear and shame. At 14, I tried to write him out of my life and end the relationship cold turkey.
We reconciled in time for my high school graduation after several family members convinced me to. But, there was no forgiveness. The damage was done and while we had both softened a little, the steps to our relational dance remained ingrained. I had daddy issues and it was obvious. I tried to be a good daughter, visiting and calling him on his birthday and Father’s Day. But, we weren’t close and never would be, I thought.
Fast forward through 10 years and a lot of pain when I began to study the Bible for the first time. I discovered that God was the ever present, gentle and accessible Father for which I had always longed. I learned that my Heavenly Father loved me enough to leave the Glory of Heaven, come to Earth and sacrifice Himself for me so that I could have a relationship with Him. After I understood and accepted God’s forgiveness, I began the journey toward forgiving my Earthly father, even though he never asked for it. Along the way, God showed me how to love my father unconditionally for who he was and not resent him for who he wasn’t. I learned to appreciate the things he taught me including the importance of a strong work ethic, the value of education, the necessity of persevering through hard times, the beauty of passion and the joy of helping others. And our relationship finally found peace.
We lost him to a chronic heart condition just before Christmas of 04. He and I had just had a phone conversation where he promised that he was going to retire soon and spend some time with me and my kids that next summer. He really wanted to be a part of their lives. We never got that chance but, I like to imagine that he came for Father’s Day and we danced all night again celebrating our new bond and his powerful influence in my life. And the fact that with God’s help, I was able to break the cycle.