Where's a Father When You Need Him?

I wish my father were here—not just because it’s Father’s Day and I become particularly sentimental when conversations turn to the legacy of dads and the lasting imprint of their love on the lives of their children. (I know very well not all grown up children are blessed with such happy memories of their father—which only deepens my gratitude for having the dad that I did.)

But I wish my father were here because of the sage perspective he used to offer. Call it old-fashioned wisdom. I don’t suppose he was a genius, but he had a savvy way of reading life and people and events that made sense to me. And given all the confusion that rooms-full of mainly fathers are creating these days in our nation’s political capital, I wonder how my dad would sort through what is beginning to feel like unmitigated chaos.

Perhaps he would quietly demur, were I to ask him for his perspectives on our non-stop litany of conflicting, competing headlines these days. Or maybe he would simply advise, “You’re better off, Son, not expending your time and energies on what will only become more complex and confusing as time races on.” Would his advice be the same about the church today? As an administrator, he knew and loved it deeply.

But whatever the counsel, I grew up believing, like countless other little boys, there was no greater somebody or anybody on earth than my own father! In fact I remember the time I was in a circle of young missionary boys and we were bragging about our dads, when mine happened to overhear our boyish chatter. “I was the toughest kid in my neighborhood,” my dad interrupted. “Every time the boys saw me coming, they all started running.” He paused, and I beamed with pride in my “tough guy” father. “But,” he went on, “they could never catch me!” As the other boys in the circle laughed with him, it took me a split second to realize he had just told the joke on himself—that he was no tough guy at all, but just another kid the bullies would chase. Oh well—he was still my hero.

And I still wish he were here. He’d be 90 years old this Father’s Day. But he died fifteen years ago, far too young for any father to leave. And he died encapsulated in the lockbox of dementia that meant we couldn’t say good-bye that last day I hugged and kissed him. I remember sitting out on the terrace of his nursing home, each of us with a cup of ice cream and those too-small wooden spoons stuck to the bottom of the cup. A small plane droned overhead, and Dad, a chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol and a private pilot in his day, instinctively looked up to track the noise in the blue California heavens. His eyesight undimmed, he quickly spotted the plane. And without comment or even expression, he followed it. Not a word. Just his ice cream and me beside him that last memory together.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). Frail feet of clay and bodies of dust are we all, dads, children and moms, too. But on this Father’s Day, I thank God for being immeasurably greater than even the most idealized image of “Father” we’ve secretly carried inside of us all these years.

“Our Father in heaven.”