When Father’s Day is Hard
My first father was Danny Tanner. Kind but firm, wise, and good at cleaning up messes both physical and emotional, he was who I sometimes pictured as a kid when I thought about what fathers were like. In case you didn’t grow up in the 90s watching basic cable after school, I’m talking about DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle’s dad on the TV show Full House. He always had the answers when his girls got into trouble, and even when they really screwed up, he always let them know he loved them and would always be there for them. This was a far cry from my own father experience. Maybe I gravitated toward Mr. Tanner because my own concept of what a father was was blurry and ungraspable, sort of like trying to remember what someone looked like in a dream. I had a vague outline, but the details never came together. Mr. Tanner was a concrete figure, an example that made sense. (As a little girl, I thought he was a real person, a real dad, so you can imagine my shock later in life when I watched Bob Saget do some standup and my beloved TV dad evaporated into thin air.)
I’ve never met my biological dad. I think the first time I remember realizing this loss was in kindergarten, when the time came to make Father’s Day cards and crafts. Everyone around me had a dad to make something for but me. I don’t say this to get you to feel sorry for me, but to get you to understand that this is when it hit me that I was different from the other kids in this way. I knew what a dad was, I guess, but I had never really thought about where mine was until that point. I went home and asked my mom, and after a long pause, she told me he “ran away.” I’m sure she was just trying to find simple words to explain a complicated thing to a little kid, but I remember thinking, from what? I began to internalize the idea that I was something to run from, or at the very least, not worth sticking around for.
Going through life as a fatherless girl is a funny thing. You have this sense that something is deeply wrong with you. That something in you must be seriously jacked up, or else he would have stayed. Years of therapy has taught me this logic isn’t very solid, but it’s hard to unlearn and untangle the things that get embedded in your soul as a child. Processing something that big wasn’t something my little-kid brain was ready for, so I ended up with some conclusions that are almost certainly not true. Here’s an example: my mom raised me by herself, and her life was hard. I figured if I wasn’t born, maybe my dad would have stayed with her, and her life would have been better. Things like that. I didn’t know anything about their relationship, why he left, or if he even knew about me, but when you’re little, you don’t think it through rationally. You can’t. All you know is you’re supposed to have a dad, and you don’t, and other kids do, so it must be you. It’s the same reason kids think it’s their fault when their parents get divorced, I think. I’ve been outrunning this deep sense of it’s-all-my-fault my entire life.
If you are dealing with your own father wound this Father’s Day, I’m waving from the next boat over. Our boats might not be exactly the same – maybe your dad was around but never seemed to have time for you, or maybe he was emotionally distant, or abusive. Maybe he was a great dad, but he passed away and you’re barely able to stand up under the ocean of grief. I’ve found that father wounds of any kind have an uncanny ability to take down our sense of self worth. If your self worth also tanks around this time of year, when all the dads are standing up in church and all the ads remind you of what you don’t have, hitch your boat to mine and let me speak some truth over you – the same truth I wish someone had spoken over me.
Because here is something I’m learning in Jesus: I am all jacked up. But I am loved and worth it to Him anyway. Even if I was not planned by my human father, I was planned by my Father in heaven. Even if I was a mistake by human evaluation, I have a purpose and value by God’s evaluation. Even if my human father left, through his own choices or otherwise, and wasn’t around to tell me he loved me or that I’m beautiful or walk me down the aisle one day, my Jesus had my face in His mind when He gave His life for me on the cross simply because He wanted me with Him for eternity. (And you know what? My mom will walk me down the aisle when the time comes. She’s earned it.)
Fatherless girls, the heart of our reality in Jesus is this: we do have a Father, and He is in love with us. He looks at us like we are His only daughter in the world, eyes full of pride and tenderness and the fiercest of loves. He will eventually fill in all the gaps, heal all the emptinesses, and make all the wrong things right. I might not be able to get that giant bear hug from Dad until I get home to heaven, and I might occasionally feel a pang of bitterness when I see photos of father-daughter dances, or when I think about how my future kiddos will be down a grandpa. This is my reality, and I can’t fix all of that. But what I can do is try to recognize that my dad leaving had nothing to do with me, that he missed out on a great girl, and that I have immeasurable value in the eyes of my Father God.
One last important point. Yes, the fatherhood of God has rescued fatherless me, but I can’t lie and say that is something I have been able to learn and lean into quickly. It is still very much a work in progress and has involved (and still involves) therapy for me. But it’s the truth, and the truth is worth fighting for. Especially when it’s the truth about who you are.
If Father’s Day is hard and you find yourself in the same or a similar boat as mine, let’s hitch our boats together. Let me know how I can pray for you. You’re not alone, I see you. Remember that you are worth the very life of Christ. And then sail your little boat toward a Father who will not fail you. He will guide us home.