"My father is rich in houses and lands,
He holdeth the wealth of the world in his hands..."
- Harriet E. Buell
Majestic, all-wise, all-powerful, and capable of being everywhere at once, this classic image of a Father-God often filters down to all men of accomplishment - including, for many of us, our own biological fathers.
George Washington was the father of our country; Johann Sebastian Bach is thought to be the father of music; and doctors, inventors, scientists and champions for social change become the fathers of their product or cause. We speak of fatherhood, Father Time, father figure, and fatherland. We go to our individual fathers for advice, protection, approval and, frequently, for what they can give us. Ideally, that is.
Sometimes we don't like our fathers, or we feel we've been shortchanged. Perhaps, because of death or family separation, they're not here, creating a void that not even a well-intentioned mother can fill.
Sometimes our demands on our fathers are unreasonable. We wish they made more money, had more respectable jobs, allowed us more freedom, or fit more closely the image our culture has given us, but which only God, our heavenly father, is equipped to fill.
In the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the younger son of a wealthy, first-century landowner had mixed feelings about his father. Oh, he liked what his father had - an abundance of this world's goods - but he didn't like living under the same roof with the man. So in a bold move on his part, and an extraordinary gesture by his father, the son asked for his inheritance right then, instead of waiting until his father's death. He wanted "the portion of goods that fall to me" while he was still young enough to enjoy it.
I used to question the wisdom of that father. Why would he give what he had worked a lifetime to earn to someone who had no experience in handling money? What a waste, and what a selfish request on the part of the son.
But I think now that this father was very wise. He knew the value of hard work, and that his son was looking for a short-cut route to success. He also knew his son would likely find that route empty, fleeting and not at all as pleasure-filled as he expected it to be.
And the father knew one more thing, that he would take his son back with open arms when his money and dreams were all spent.
Rather than committing a foolish gesture, this father was exercising a valuable teaching tool by allowing his son to live in the arena of personal experience. In the end, the son received much more from his father than half his wealth. He learned the value of work, responsibility, and forgiveness, gifts that would not disappear with "riotous living," but would last a lifetime.
"Father" has many synonyms and, therefore, many meanings. The word root actually means "to feed," so we are not far off when we call him the "breadwinner." A father is also "a guardian, protector, preserver, teacher, he who begets a child and one who acts with authority." Used in a more general way, "Father" can be "a respectful mode of address to an older man" and, in a religious sense, as a synonym for pastor or priest.
guess I've covered a lot of ground, made some new discoveries about word meanings and taken care of a topic that comes up every year at this time. I've also uncovered some new feelings about my own father. Not having him here anymore, wishing for some of that protection again and, perhaps, for the advice I wasn't as eager to receive when he was here to give it, does that for me every time Father's Day passes again.
But I smile, knowing he wouldn't want me sitting here filled with remorse because I didn't appreciate him as much when he was alive as I do now. No doubt he had the same mixed feelings about his father. Or maybe, like the wise father in the Bible, he gave me the arena of personal experience, and allowed me to make my own mistakes, too.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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