"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!"
- I John 3:1
I walk quickly past the card counter, ignore the "Super Dad" balloon display in the aisle, and toss "Father's Day Sale" brochures into the trash. I feel a slight twinge, knowing I ignored the man who reared me more often during the 42 years we shared than I do the Father's Day accouterments I no longer need.
Regrets - we've all had a few.
Sometimes, especially in our youth, we don't like our dads. We wish they made more money, had better jobs, allowed us more freedom or fit more closely that image we created for them but which only God, our heavenly Father, can fill. A friend describes her father as "mean, real mean," and I ask how they are going to celebrate Father's Day?
"Oh, just pretend as usual," she said.
It's not unusual for family members to be displeased with the "relative" hand they've been dealt.
In the parable Jesus told about the prodigal son (Luke 15), a young man had mixed feelings about his father, too. He liked what his father possessed, but he did not like living under the same roof with the man.
So, in a bold move on his part and an extraordinary gesture on the part of the father, he asked for his share of the inheritance he would receive anyway when his father died. Surprisingly, the father caved. Predictably, the son took the money, left home, and "wasted his substance on riotous living."
I've often questioned the wisdom of that father, wondering why he gave what he had worked so hard to amass to someone who deserved it so little. What a waste. What a selfish, ungrateful son.
But I think now that this father was a very wise man. He knew his son was trying to bypass the normal steps to maturity and wealth, but he also understood that life's most valuable teaching tool is the arena of personal experience, especially when that experience includes a host of mistakes. The father also knew he would welcome his returning son with open arms when his money was gone and his lesson learned.
And in a lesson I've learned since my early, Bible-story days, I now know Jesus did not tell this parable to illustrate how earthly fathers should treat their wayward sons or indifferent daughters. Rather, this story reveals how God, the perfect Father, treats all of us when we are more interested in the gift than we are in the giver, or when we squander our inheritance, too.
The word "father" has many meanings, including the root word, "to feed." (We are not far off when we assign him the common expression, "breadwinner.") A father can also be a guardian, protector, teacher, he who begets a child or one who has authority, all images we use interchangeably to describe our earthly fathers as well as God. How fortunate we are when those images coincide, but how common it is to place our own fathers on a pedestal they may not be able to climb.
I've covered a lot of ground here between the card counter and the "Father's Day" ideal, and I've uncovered some new feelings about my own father. Maturity does that, as does not having him with me anymore and, even in my later years, missing some of that protection and advice I wasn't as eager to receive when he was here to give it.
But though I did not buy a card or gift again this year, I suspect my father has had a wonderful Father's Day anyway, sitting there among the angels, grinning from ear to ear, because I've finally learned some of the lessons only the years and an accumulation of mistakes can teach.
I just wish I had learned one of those lessons sooner, the one about not assigning the majestic, super-human traits of my heavenly Father to the one who, in limited but well-intentioned ways, represented him here on earth.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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