13 June 2008

Father's Day...again.

A few years ago, I did a program at my church around Father's Day when I made the startling statement, "I HATE FATHER'S DAY." You could have heard a pin drop in the sanctuary. I then went on to tell my story about my very tempestuous relationship with my biological father - and how, throughout the course of my life, that relationship impacted my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I spoke about hating to walk the aisles of the stationary story looking for a card that wasn't so impersonal that any stranger could have been given the card and yet, didn't lie about the reality of my relationship with my father. I confessed that I was often jealous of my friends who did (or appeared to have) the typical "father-daughter, daddy's girl" relationship. And I remember asking the question: how do I reconcile the idea of a loving, caring, long-suffering Father with my reality of a torn, broken and scarred relationship with my biological father?

Before my parents divorced (over 30 years ago), I was the typical "daddy's girl". If you saw one, you saw the other. My father and I are very much alike in temperment, attitudes, work ethic, and for a long time, we even looked alike. [As I grow older, I look more and more like my mother - which ain't a bad thing - it's just the way I developed]. After my parents divorced, things changed. Throughout my life, I have consistently maintained that I am more like the paternal side of my family than the maternal side - and yet, my lifelong relationship with my father has been fraught with ups and downs, heartaches and disappointments. After my parents' divorce, I did not see my father for almost a decade - military duty had him stationed all over the world and it just didn't happen. When I was 15, I visited my father and stepmother at their home and let me tell you, it was not the happy "Little House on the Prairie" reunion. Throughout high school and even my college years, subsequent visits were not much better. I am not placing blame squarely at the feet of my father and/or stepmother - I had a part to play as well - but suffice it to say, our relationship did not improve for a LOOOOOOONG time. It took illness for me and a surgery for my dad where he literally got his throat cut for things to change - for us to have a conversation where we were both able to clear the air about things.

It's still not the "perfect" relationship. But it is getting better.

For the last four years, I have spent every Fathers Day weekend with my father and stepmother at their Texas home. We go out to brunch, we walk the beach, I lay out in the pool and Jacuzzi, we make numerous runs to my dad's favorite store [Wal-Mart], he grills me salmon on his grill, we get up at an obscene hour of the morning to do a 5 mile walk around the neighborhood and I take lots and lots of pictures. And it is better than it was. And I thank both my Heavenly and biological fathers for the change. Baby steps...baby steps.

So, did I ever answer the question about my Heavenly Father? Of course, I did. It took time, growth, various life experiences (and several sessions of therapy!) but He sent men into my life who showed me His love for me as a Father.

My grandfather, Edward J. Smith, was the best example of a father's love shown to me. He didn't pull any punches when he thought I was wrong - but he consistently showed me unconditional love. Our conversations every Sunday morning still resonate within me. Whenever I had a question of faith, he was my spiritual touchstone. January marked seven years since his death and I still miss him every day.

My uncle, James, was another "father figure" who loved me unconditionally. His wry sense of humor would brighten my Sabbath mornings as I headed to church in the "land yacht" that he gave me when I was without a car. Throughout my college matriculation, every month or so, I'd get a check from him in some weird, obscure, "let me clear out the balance in this account" amount that was always JUST what I needed to get me through. His love of the music of Mahalia Jackson and the Blendwrights made me appreciate that "ole time music" throughout my teenage and young adult years.

All of my mother's brothers stood in the gap for me and my brother after my parents divorced. Do you know what it is like having seven "daddies" when you are growing up? It can be a blessing and a curse. But these men taught me how to drive a car, how to be a woman that men would respect, how to defend myself - both physically and mentally, how to perserve no matter what obstacles might be placed in my path. And they each taught me how to flirt - so I totally blame them for that! Thanks, Hector, William, Clifton, Milton, Richard, Al and James.

There are other male role models that have impacted my life, but once I start calling names, I am sure to leave someone out, so this is a blanket "thank you" and "Happy Father's Day" to all my "play daddies", "campus dads and uncles", pastors, elders and friends who have shown God's love for me and to me during the course of my life. Thank you for allowing God to use you to show me His love for me. Your reward is in Heaven.

As Sunday rolls around and you honor your biological father(s), I pray that you, and they, will be blessed. I pray that your relationships will be strengthened and nourished, and for my male friends: I pray that, if you are a father, you will do everything within in your power to let your children see the example of your Heavenly Father in all that you say and do as you interact with them. Your example of a father can point them to God - or turn them against Him. Your example makes a bigger impact than you will ever realize this side of heaven. Just something to think about...

Be blessed.

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