This will be the third Father’s Day since my dad died. I miss him.
Your own memories of your earthly father may be painful, and your heart might not fill with any sense of missing. But as Father’s Day approaches, pain-filled or positive, our earthly experience can lead to thanks toward, and a greater yearning for, our heavenly Father. I write these thoughts with the prayer that He will use them to strengthen your love for Him.
It all began as patience on our multi-state car trip had worn thin. With hours still to go, we needed a diversion. So, we drove a bit off the direct route, and headed toward my childhood home. We’d not been to my hometown in years, and the kids’ memories of trips to Donnie’s and Granddaddy’s house were beginning fade.
An off-road diversion
So, past my elementary school we went. Past the sidewalks I’d walked home on from middle school each afternoon. Past the neighbor’s house where I’d proudly picked out my first kitten, and the yard where my brother played neighborhood football.
Our trip down my memory lane provided the break in monotony everyone needed.
As we neared my childhood home, though, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. Sneaky? Nervous? Would the family who’d bought the house be outside? Would we just look and keep driving? We drove slowly past, and the new family was nowhere to be seen.
In the moment, though, I decided I lacked the bravery it’d take to go to the front door and introduce myself. And besides, I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to see how they might have changed things. So we stayed in the car, tried not to appear too stalker-ish, and snapped a couple quick pictures with my phone.
Dogwood trees and carefully-cared-for homes
This morning, home from our trip, with my own house quiet and everyone still asleep, I curled up on the sofa and thumbed through my phone’s pics. I noticed again how they’d painted the shutters, and cut back my mom’s pink azaleas, and pulled up my dad’s architectural stone pavings. I noticed the cat lazing happily on the front porch, and the mailbox moved street-side. (Did the mailman no longer park and walk the street, delivering to the front porch as he’d done all my childhood?)
I remembered how the sound of their kids’ laughter from their backyard trampoline had carried to our rolled-down windows. The new owners had transformed the modest, brick home of my childhood into their own home. My whole life had been lived there. And now someone else was changing the house of my memories.
Surprised by unexpected emotions
As my eyes scoured the photos for other signs of change, a lump formed in my throat, and brimming tears pooled in my eyes. Why did the photos of the front yard dogwood tree, now grown so large, cause me to cry? (Why does it seem I should have been there to somehow give it permission to reach for the sky?) Why this wistful sadness as I realize their plump, family cat curls up where my plump, childhood dog used to nap? And why the tears now, when, as we drove past, I was mostly unmoved?
I realize that today’s tears are tied to the approach of Father’s Day and memories of my dad.
A home-front, symbolic of the man
For the pictures of my childhood home remind me of his care for me. My flood of tears accompany my flood of memories as I look closely at the (mostly still the same) house he cared for all those years. I remember the day he poured the walkway stones and helped us mash our hand prints into the concrete. I remember holding his tools as he laid bricks for the floor of added-on rooms.
I miss my dad. I wish I could tell him thank you.
- I’d thank him for building a home of safety.
- I’d thank him for working long hours at a job he might not have found fulfilling in order to provide for his family.
- I’d thank him for weekends spent cleaning gutters and trimming dogwood trees and caring carefully for our home.
I always felt safe there. The safety I felt was not because he was a large, imposing man. No, I felt safe in that home for one reason:
I knew he cared carefully for its physical structure because he cared carefully for the people who lived inside.
He worked to provide a warm and sturdily built home for his family, and these years later, I’m left grateful.
In the strong (or even pale) reflection
As I’m flooded with memories of my dad and sadness that I never said enough “thanks,” two thoughts have come to mind:
- The noble qualities I loved in my dad were but mortal reflections, reminders, given to point me to the everlasting attributes of my Father in heaven.
- I’m unable to verbally thank my earthly dad for his estimable qualities, but I can thank my heavenly Father for His.
My sadness turns into thankfulness toward God: I whisper surely-heard thanks — for He always hears. I thank the Lord for His dedication to me, for His tender love, for His vigilant guard over my life. My dad can’t hear me, but my Father can. I bow joyfully before my heavenly Father’s greatness, grateful my poignant memories have served to turn my eyes upon Him.
A deficient father — and the perfect Father
But you may have had an absent or cruel or self-serving father. If memories of your earthly father sting, allow the contrast to turn you to God, who is so very different. For the pale, or completely absent, reflection of the Father serves as a reminder too.
- Your earthly father may have been absent. God never is.
- Your earthly father may have been narcissistic, consumed with self, not really concerned for your good. God’s goal is always for your good, to bring you to Him, where your greatest joy is to be found.
- Your earthly father may have been harsh or critical or duplicitous, but your heavenly Father loves you with a steady and never-ending love.
- You might have to forgive your earthly father over and over again, but God the Father always perfectly cherishes you. He is always for you.
J.I. Packer says it so well:
“… the thought of our Maker becoming our perfect parent — faithful in love and care, generous and thoughtful, interested in all we do, respecting our individuality, skillful in training us, wise in guidance, always available, helping us to find ourselves in maturity, integrity, and uprightness — is a thought which can have meaning for everybody, whether we come to it by saying, ‘I had a wonderful father, and I see that God is like that, only more so,’ or by saying, ‘My father disappointed me here, and here, and here, but God, praise His name, will be very different,’ or even by saying, ‘I have never known what it is to have a father on earth, but thank God I now have one in heaven.'” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 184)
This Father’s Day, whether we had a father we thought was nearly perfect, or a palely-reflecting dad, or a nearly nonexistent earthly father, let’s turn our hearts toward our heavenly Father, who chooses to pour out everlasting love upon us through Jesus, His Son. He calls us daughter. He is faithful in love and care, and completely perfect in all His ways.