Letter to My Dad

randomlychad  —  July 13, 2015 — 4 Comments


Like the cooler days of spring, Father’s Day, 2015, has come and gone. The dog days of summer, like a stubborn hound refusing a bath, have planted themselves hard upon the ground of my soul. To say the heat is oppressive is akin to labelling Mao a “little communist.” Particularly this time of year, with the monsoon season hanging pregnant in the sky, its waters about to break. It’s this time of year, with Father’s Day (and my birthday) just so recently past, that sadness overtakes my soul. I can’t help think of my dad; of what was, what is, and what will never be.

In the simplest terms–though I may have something of his face, the timbre of his voice, his light-skinned Irish complexion–I don’t know the man. Growing up, he was a poltergeist: a ghostly presence which only seemed to manifest in some kind of malevolence. When he was there, it was with a caustic word; when not, he was a cypher. I lost him to work, and to the bottle, long before he last darkened the doors of our home.

And then he was gone for good.

Only to re-emerge when, and if, it was convenient for him. Only to bring chaos into my re-ordered life. There was no balance when he was there, and there certainly was none he would either deign to visit, or when my brother and I would be made to visit him. Why? Why would we have to go, when he had so stridently declared his preference? Because when it came right down to it, he left, and moved away when his then-girlfriend was transferred out of state. Of all the things I still struggle with all these years later, it’s this; being cast asunder, left by the wayside, when something better came along.

Of the deepest soul wounds, the one which cuts the harshest is that of never being (feeling) loved by the one man who was supposed to love me. I, we–my brother, my mother–were always second choice; he came first. The distance, both emotional and physical, has colored (for good or ill) the way I view my Heavenly Father; as I view my dad, I see Him as a distant presence, uninvolved. Because I know it isn’t true, I daily fight this view.

Thing is, I don’t always know how to keep the dad out, and let the Father in. That’s a struggle, too. And if I’m feeling particularly honest, this one relationship gone around upon the rocky shoals of familial dysfunction has colored not just my relationship with Jesus, but also every other one as well; I don’t know how to let people in. Every time I’ve tried it’s ended in heartache and pain. Men’s groups have fallen in tatters around me when I’ve opened up to share my convictions. I see friends diving deep, doing life with others, and always feel like I’m left holding the bag–standing on the outside looking in.

The only thing I can conclude is that’s me; I’m hopelessly broken, doomed to merely skim through life. Not truly sharing in either the joys, or the sorrows, of the folks that always seem to mean more to me than I do to them.

Like my dad.


Photo Credit: “PAIN Knuckle Tattoo 11-23-09 — IMG_9893”, © 2009 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

There is nothing quite like pain to bring us up short. When it hurts just to breathe, how do we take that next breath? The body knows–even if the receptors in the brain are flaring up like an electrified pin cushion. We would term this bad pain. Certainly unwanted pain. 
You see, I’ve been on a journey to work my way up to a 300 lb bench press. With only a couple of months to go, I recently took a tumble, hurting my back. This is has hindered the forward momentum I had laboriously, by the sweat of my brow, built. Only fifty pounds away from my goal, I’ve had to stop. You see, when one is working out, there are good and satisfying pains of the workout (soreness), there are the pains one pushes through.

And as I alluded to above, there are the pains that quite literally take one’s breath away. We would (as I said above) call this bad pain. The thing is, pain just is. It’s a warning system to let us know when things aren’t right. In these cases, it’s a voice which must be heeded. Or else we risk adding injury to injury.

Author Jim Butcher says there’s one thing we often forget about pain; namely, that it’s for the living. The dead don’t feel it. That we feel pain means, quite bluntly, that we are still alive. Philip Yancey would remind us to look to the leper, whose deadened nerve endings deny the necessary warnings which pain brings…

I’m not going to lie: pain isn’t fun. And the season of recovery, where I must sacrifice some of the progress of made, is frustrating. But it is necessary.

There is something to be said for slowing down. I’ve been able to read more, watch some movies, rest.

Pain let me know that it was time for a reset.

What has pain taught you?

Fair warning: while I’m not a divorced dad, I am a child of divorce. And having grown up in a broken home, think I have something to say to divorced dads. That out of the way, here goes:

1) It’s not (all) your fault. Marriage takes two willing parties; that is, two people willing to work at making it work. Sometimes it’s the man who isn’t willing, other times it’s the woman.

2) Own the things that are your fault. Your kids don’t care who carries the blame, e.g. who did what to whom. They just know that one, or both, of their parents is (for whatever reason) no longer around. And they wonder, even if they’re old enough to know better rationally, did I do something wrong? Is this my fault? In the midst of your own pain, and confusion, you’ve got to find a way to be there for your kids. Let them know it’s not their fault.

3) Be honest. Talk to your kids. Talk to them–not at them. In my case, because my mom was more open, and more willing to talk, it was easier to gravitate towards her. My dad on the other hand chose to leave. This lack of communication made it far easier to resent him, make him the villain (even if he was just a hurting soul himself). To this day (I’m almost forty-six), I have no real relationship with him.

Because he chose not to be real with me. In essence, he became this distant figure who tried assert himself into my life (a life he’d walked away from just as I was entering high school) about twice a year. I felt like an obligation, a checkmark.

Not a beloved son.

Did my duty, abided by the terms of the decree, move along.

That is not a relationship.

I’m sure dad wonders now why “the cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon” as the late Harry Chapin sang.

4) Just because you’re the dad doesn’t mean you get to dictate all the terms. This is a relationship–not a “dadtatorship.” If you play the general, your kids will revolt. The harder you squeeze something (or someone) the more it slips through your fingers. You have to let them be their own people. Let me ask you this: do you like to feel controlled? Do you think your kids do?

5) Share their interests. Bond over something they like. This may mean doing something you don’t like. But it’s for a greater cause; namely, re/establishing a relationship. If the biblical account of the Prodigal Son teaches anything, it’s that the father goes to the son. He is actively scanning the horizon. He runs to the son (or daughter). We earthly dads are not the Heavenly Father, and as such must model humility and repentance. We set the tone, but we don’t set all the terms. And for myself, I tried for years to have a meaningful relationship with my dad, but because he wanted to set all the terms (the rules of engagement, if you will), it never worked. Believe me you don’t want to be in your seventies, filled with regret, wondering why your kids never call or come around.

6) Be their soft place. Let them know (and model) that there isn’t anything they can’t come to you with. Listen. It’s cliché, but true nonetheless, that people (especially our own families) don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

7) Respect your ex-spouse. You can’t do anything about how they treat you, but you can control your attitude and comportment regarding them. Your kids are watching. Show them what it’s like, no matter how hard it may be, to live with honor. At the very least, if you can’t bring yourself to like your ex-spouse, honor their office–that being one of the parents of your children. Again it’s not easy, but it can be done.

8) Pray for your kids. The statistics concerning children of divorce are disheartening to say the least. More likely to have trouble in school, have substance abuse problems, get divorced themselves, and finally die younger.

They need you, dads, and the uniquely masculine love you bring into their lives. If you can help it don’t move away. Find a way to instead be close by. If they move, take the pay cut to be closer to them. Do your all, because ultimately how they view the Heavenly Father is filtered through the lens of your example.

They’re counting on you, dad.

<strike>Bruce</strike> I’m sorry, Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news of late regarding his/her gender transition. We’re supposed to believe that a man of 65 years of age has felt like a woman all of his life, and is now letting <strike>his</strike> her true self out.

Well and good. None of us can see inside Caitlyn’s soul to judge this for ourselves. But what I find hard to fathom is that the same folks who are so loudly trumpeting the fact that we must support Caitlyn, can’t get behind Rachel Dolezal. I mean if gender dysphoria is indeed a thing, why not racial dysphoria. The woman seem to have so strongly identified with the black experience that she believes she’s black.

In this relativistic, pluralistic culture in which we live, who are we to say otherwise? Personal truth (“my truth,” “my experience”) trumps objective reality everyday of the week. We can be whomever, and whatever, we wish…

Except if we’re Rachel Dolezal claiming to be black. Then, no, that’s not okay. But if one is a woman, for instance, who objects to <strike>Bruce</strike> Caitlyn Jenner’s conscription of femininity without living the feminine experience, the one is termed “transphobic.”

My conclusion is that, along with Chesterton, “Our Father is young, and we have grown old.” We have grown old in this sin-soaked world. Sin has tainted everything–everything–we see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Our reason is fallen. In my worldview, gender dysphoria is a consequence of sin. As is claiming to be something we aren’t (this would be termed “lying”). 


AND THIS IS AN AWFULLY BIG “BUT.” Nothing puts us outside the love and grace of God. There is nothing truer than what He says about us; namely, that we–whether we are Caitlyn Jenner, or Rachel Dolezal–are never beyond His love. That He sent His Son. That whether we are gay, straight, bi, transgender, or claim to be transracial, all He asks is that we come to Him to let Him make of us something new. We can debate all the live long day  about what is, or is not, sin.

But in the end, we all need Him.

That, my friends, is not relative.

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?