Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father’s Day For the Rest of Us

Father’s Day doesn’t mean much to some people. Sure, everyone has a father, but there are lots and lots of people who do not have a good relationship with him. So for so many people, what we have here is a day to celebrate a man who has done little worthy of celebration.

Some people have fathers who they have never met. Others have fathers who ditched out when the going got rough. Some have fathers who traded in their mother in efforts to solve some sort of mid-life crisis. Some have fathers who abused, neglected, and otherwise mistreated them. Some have fathers who they had to parent in order to survive. Some had alcoholic, drug-addicted, workaholic, narcissistic, etc fathers who invested their energy into anything else but their own child. Yes, there are many ways fathers have found to let their children down.

So, for those of us who have a good relationship with our father, today is a good day, but for the rest of us, today is something else. It can feel like Valentine’s Day for single people, Christmas for an atheist, or Thanksgiving Days in America for recent immigrants – that’s a nice holiday if it applies to you, but it does not apply to me. 

So, what does Father’s Day mean for the person whose father has done little or nothing to deserve a day of celebration?

Here are a few ideas for how to redeem Father’s Day.

Celebrate your “back up dad.” A back up dad is a man who was not your father, but was a good man who invested something into your life. He is a good man who had a little extra time for you. Maybe he is a neighbor, an uncle, a man at your place of worship, a coach, or a teacher. He may or may not have known your father did not meet up to your needs, but it did not matter – he took a piece of himself and gave it to you. Go tell him thanks and tell him why it meant something to you.

Celebrate a father. There are a lot of good fathers out there who go about being awesome and never seek out or even expect praise for the awesomeness. At the same time, it does not mean that a genuine expression of appreciation would be meaningless. In fact, he might not even know how much it would mean to him to have someone tell him how great he is. He may not be your father or your “back up day,” but he is a father who is making a difference in the life of his children. Give him some kudos and make his day.

Forgive your father. Many people whose fathers were not there for them have already grappled with this one, but many have not. For many, there is a lingering, simmering, smoldering hatred for their father that is alive not too far under the surface. They try to manage it, but it is toxic. It is hoped that this festering wound could be contained and not spread to other relationships, beliefs they have about men, and their own beliefs about themselves, but in most cases even the best efforts at managing the hurt eventually fail. Plus, it takes a lot of psychological energy to manage such a bundle of unfinished business. Forgiving a father of his wrongs is the pathway to liberation for you and opens the door for reconciliation, at least on your end. Unforgiveness, though understandable, is allowing him power in your life that he does not deserve. Unforgiveness is not justice, it is unfinished business, it is a self-inflicted wound, and it has no redeeming value.

Be a great parent. Having a father who failed to be the kind of man you needed him to be has a powerful influence on a person. Sometimes the worst in a father is intergenerationally contagious. If you are a parent who had a poor relationship with your father, be aware of what you did not like about him trying to reproduce itself inside of you. Then be proactive to replace that with something far more life giving for your own children. The joy of redemption is knowing that intergenerational contagion ended with you. 

Be a “back up parent.” You do not have to look too far to find children whose father is not there for them. They are in your neighborhood, your place of worship, and your area schools. Finding ways to invest into children whose father is so important and can be very powerful. How? Be a good neighbor who knows your neighbors and their children. Volunteer to chaperone that youth trip for your place of worship or even local school. Get connected a the local YMCA. There are many ways to be a “back up parent.”

Father’s Day may be a difficult day for you, but it does not have to be meaningless. You do not have to endure it, ignore it, or dismiss it. You can redeem it. With effort and intentionality, you can still make this a happy Father’s Day for you and for someone else.

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