I belong to a demographic of millions who watch a parent decline. Let’s face it, after a certain age, we all somewhat decline each day, but to watch the fading of a towering figure in one’s life brings a unique heartache. My father has always been stoic, wise, insightful, and contemplative—a steady hand on my shoulder and those uncounted throughout his career as a Navy Chaplain, (Captain) and five decades as a minister. Yet now, age and Parkinson’s Disease work in tandem to chip away at abilities. Despite the encroachment of frailness, his faithfulness remains resolute.
When observing my father, I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul writing,
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:16
Reflecting on my relationship with my father in the sunset of his life, my mind floods with memories, events, and the most important masculine fixture in my life for sixty years. On Father’s Day, one cannot help but contemplate how fatherhood is an increasingly complicated topic in American culture. Yet, appreciation for one’s father remains among the most poignant things a son or daughter can feel.
Likewise, a father’s bestowment of blessing and pride equips that child to succeed wildly in all that matters in life – and carries a lifelong impact that extends to all a child does and becomes. The absence of those things can wreak havoc. In a world teeming with madness, one cannot help but wonder how many of society’s mental illnesses and dysfunctions connect to an abdicating or abusive father.
Each day, I grow more keenly aware of the priceless treasure of having no memory of my father expressing anything other than love or pride in me – even when I didn’t feel prideworthy or loveable. Recalling my worst moment, when working hard to make amends for a significant failure, I haltingly asked my father if he was ashamed of me. With an indescribable gentleness, he said, “No … I’m more proud of you than ever.”
I grieve for men and women who never heard those words – and mourn particularly for the ones who listened to the opposite.
Father’s Day is challenging for many, and for some, it’s tragic.
There remain no unsettled issues between my father and me. I do not yearn for something he withheld. Yet, I know many do – so I write this today to speak frankly to fathers who may have unfinished business with their children. If possible, bequeath the one thing every child requires: a father’s love. Too many in this world must live without it – and, in its absence, seek flimsy or destructive alternatives.
May this Father’s Day be one of reconciliation and blessing – while there is still time.
For those without a father, I would point to a radical concept that happened nearly two-thousand years ago- when an odd assortment of men asked their Rabbi, “How should we pray?”
Responding to their request, the Rabbi taught a prayer that changed the world. Few had ever dared refer to the Almighty in such a way, but the Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth stated, “Pray then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name….”
Christ instructed his disciples (both then and now) to refer to God as “Father.”
Father’s Day may be the single most important day on the calendar. It can be the day when a lifetime of longing can be satisfied. A father’s affirmation can unleash potential and undiscovered courage to recover what was lost – or restore what was damaged.
While my relationship with my father remains solid and settled, the grief steps ever closer. Living so far away creates a longing to be near him – and recently feeling the miles between us on a call, I stifled tears, saving them until afterward. Taking a drive, I turned on the radio and heard Dan Fogelberg’s timeless hit about his father, “The Leader of the Band.”
“I thank you for the kindness and times when you got tough.
And, Papa, I don’t think I said, ‘I love you’ near enough.”