Monday, June 18, 2012

Faith Of My Fathers

I have a lot of fathers in my life. Most of the time I get along with them. Some of the time I can be rebellious, ungrateful, rude. Some of the time they deserve it. Most of the time they don’t. With Father’s Day this past weekend, I got to thinking about them all and the influences they’ve had in my life.

My relationship with my dad had always been up and down. Walking a fine line between resentment and affection. It’s probably because we’re alike in a lot of our negativities: emotional, a tad sensitive, prone to impatience and taking ourselves a little too seriously. Growing up I felt like I really identified with Ariel, having a dad who yelled in my face one minute and then regretted it the next. I see that pattern far too much in my own parenting. When I was younger, his apologies were readily received, his offenses quickly forgotten. As I got older I wasn’t so quick to forgive. We butted heads repeatedly. More than once I heard, “Honor your father and mother! Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right and the first commandment with a promise!”, to which I always cuttingly replied, “Fathers, PROVOKE NOT THY CHILDREN.” My dad and I were both at fault those tumultuous growing up years. He, for expecting too much and pressuring me to be the way he thought I should be. I, for not being willing to give him that little extra he always wanted to see in me. For deliberately needling him because I knew I could. After my parents separated, Dad tried a lot harder to meet me halfway. For a long time I felt like it was too little, too late. I rebuffed his efforts to get to know me better, until I had my own son. Things changed after that. I realized that nothing- NOTHING- is as black and white as I thought it was. There is so much gray area to get lost in. And now that I was stumbling around in that gray fog, how could I blame him for doing the same all those years? Our relationship is vastly different now. We still butt heads sometimes. But Dad is a different man than he was when I was a teenager. And I’d like to think I’ve grown some since then. We understand each other better. We’ve learned how to communicate. There are a lot of lessons I can learn from my dad. He’s a lot wiser than I gave him credit for.

My stepdad, AJ, came into my life about 10 years ago. That was a rough segue for us. Anything I say about him is not to undermine my dad or make him look bad- just a disclaimer. The first time I met AJ was Easter Sunday of 2003. He invited all of us kids to his apartment for dinner. He made steaks (for 9 people), helped my mom put together Easter baskets for us, bought stuffed animals for Ashton (who was as yet, unborn). He was a nervous wreck. Looking back through the filter of knowing him for ten years, I can see how hard he tried to impress us. It was a tough task. Four adult children, two adolescents in the peak of all their angst, combined with the hurt and resentment and- yes, let’s just admit it- our firm determination to hate this guy no matter what. He was so brave. He made corny jokes, but never made much eye contact. He honored my mother, but didn’t rub it in our faces. And over the past ten years, he’s worked his way into our hearts, in spite of our early intentions. When my grandpa was sick, he packed up, no questions, and moved my mom down to Florida to be with him. And now that my grandpa is gone, AJ holds down the fort, the only man surrounded by four women from my mother’s family. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what does.

My father-in-law is the dad I’ve butted heads with the most in recent years. He’s ornery. I’m ornery. We’ve had quite a few battles, one of our most memorable explosions being the time he cut Chloe’s bangs while I was out to lunch. I still get worked up telling that story. Just last week we got into an argument that resulted in slammed doors and raised voices. He sulked in his room and I sulked in the kitchen. He says I give him a hard time, I say he deserves it. He’s never been an outwardly affectionate man- Jeremy can attest to that. Having grandkids has softened him remarkably, but he’ll always be the type to show his love subtly. For instance: Jeremy and I live in The Box House, which is actually owned by my father in law, rent free. He’ll sometimes come over on his days off to trim bushes, touch up paint and siding, and do general upkeep. He brings us baskets of vegetables from his garden. He’ll sit and talk history with Ashton for hours (sometimes whether Ashton wants to or not). And although Grandma spoils the kids, they know who to go to if they don’t want to hear no. Papa fills them to the eyeballs with donuts, ice cream, and popsicles. He takes them out to the garden to get devoured by mosquitos while they pick corn and green beans.

 The last dad in my life isn’t MY dad- he’s my kids’ dad. Jeremy became a daddy at a really young age. Even though we didn’t plan Ashton, he never once looked back, the way I so often have. He cried like a baby the day Ashton was born (and I have the pictures to prove it). I tell people all the time that Jeremy is far and away a better parent than I am. He’s patient when I’m not. He wrestles with Ashton and plays Barbies with the girls. He’s the good cop to my bad cop (why, Moms, does it always end up this way?? Why do we always end up having to be the bad guy?? Please let me know your thoughts on this), the Ernie to my Burt. While I take myself too seriously, he picks and chooses his battles, making him way more effective in the long run. He teaches Ashton sports and some hybrid form of self defense that I’m pretty sure he makes up as he goes along. He takes the girls on “Daddy Dates”, where they dress up and he takes them wherever they want to go. He’s a very deliberate father. What I mean when I say that is, he’s intentional. I’m fly off the handle, unpredictable, here and there. Jeremy makes eye contact when he talks to the kids. He listens to their stories. He’s deliberate with his compliments: “Chloe, that dress makes your eyes look pretty.” “Ashton, you did a really good job obeying today.” “Atleigh, your finger nail polish colors are great.” He knows his kids. He knows what makes them tick. Sometimes I might not agree with his methods, but in the end I know that he’s the perfect foil to my harum-scarum brand of parenting.

So here are some lessons I’ve learned from the fathers in my life, sometimes the hard way.

From my dad, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to change. Second, third, fourth chances are always available. Dad realized late in life some of the mistakes he made. Instead of just letting it slide, he tried hard to correct them, even when we rebuffed him. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to wear my heart on my sleeve. Vulnerability can be a secret strength. He is tenderhearted. He’s compassionate. And because he understands mistakes, he’s quick to give second chances in return, and God knows I’ve needed them.

My stepdad has taught me acceptance. He knew, going in, that my mom had a lot of baggage, including 6 particularly large pieces. He took us all into his heart. He loves my kids like they’re his own grandkids- as truly, they are. He’s shown me selflessness. He’s shown me unconditional love, and what it means to act it out.

I’ve learned from my father-in-law that love doesn’t always have to look the way I think it does. No matter what people say, it isn’t always necessary to say the words “I love you”. Yes, it’s nice. But it’s easy to say, not so easy to show. And my father-in-law shows. Yes, we argue. Yes, we pick at each other. But the little things (and the big things) he does for us, show me a lot more clearly that he loves us than a Hallmark card ever could.

Jeremy teaches me lessons everyday, whether he knows it or not. He teaches me what patience can look like. He teaches me that discipline can be deliberate, not an act of exasperation. I know my kids are growing up with a dad they can trust. Whereas I may end up being the King Triton to their Ariel, losing my cool and then quickly regaining it, Jeremy is more steady. He’ll be the one teaching them how to protect them from themselves, while I’ll be trying to just lock them in their rooms.

Each of these men are a mere earthly shadow of my true Father. The best part of seeing all of these elements in them is knowing that they’re the tiniest fractions of the grace and compassion, the acceptance and unconditional love, the protection and provision, the patience and careful guidance of the Father Who placed these men in my life. I’ve been a less than gracious daughter to all of them, but especially to Him. I’ve closed my ears to lessons I could have been taught with much less heartache if I’d listened the first time. I’ve argued and stiffened my neck, I’ve turned my back, slammed doors, and thrown temper tantrums. I’ve proven over and over again that I’m a headstrong girl in need of a Father. And He’s always been that to me.

To all of you fathers out there, good or bad, struggling to show your son what a man can be, bewildered by your daughters growing up; to the fathers who need second, third, and fourth chances; to the fathers who are separated from your families right now, voluntarily or otherwise, I say: May you be an earthly shadow of the true Father. May you practice grace everyday. May you be teachable. May you lead by example and not words. And one day, perhaps in 30 years, your children will look back, as I have done, and realize all the lessons they’ve learned from you.

Happy Father’s Day, to all my dads.



  1. Poignant account. Your posts are refreshingly honest. And my thoughts on the good guy bad guy? Terry alwsys took the heat as the bad cop. He did not deserve that position. I put him there manu times.

  2. Beautiful post. I teared up when you were talking about Jeremy as a daddy.

    (Incidentally, I'm the bad cop, too, and I HATE it. Is it because "boys will be boys" and they can identify with the kids more? LOL. Drew is great at picking battles, too.)

    Anyway... I really love your writing. <3 <3