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I Hate Father’s Day—a Tribute to Fathers

Father's dayI was at a low place one Father’s Day when I’d first begun my PhD. I did not know it at the time, but I was six months down my four year road with sleep apnea, which came on suddenly after a severe illness and ended just as suddenly with reconstructive throat surgery. I was uber-stressed, struggling with bills in a new house that was draining me with repairs, while working full-time 2nd shift and killing myself on intensive German studies full-time days. We walked into church and I was assaulted from the pulpit in yet another demeaning Father’s Day message.

I found it ironic, even then, that Father’s day was used each year, no matter what church I happened to be in at the time, to preach a message that ultimately arrived at one fundamental point—God is our heavenly father, and though your own fathers are just so darn disappointing in comparison, we’ll just have to forgive them and cling with that last vestige of patience to the goodness of the divine father.

Growing up, mother’s always got the cream of the crop for sermons. Mothers were semi-divine, a sweetness, wonderful self-sacrificing care-givers. Motherhood was a most blessed state, something to be praised from the mountain tops, and the subject of quiet thanks in our evening prayers. And I don’t begrudge mothers this honor… even though, to be honest, I’ve met some real stinkers in my day.

On this particular Sunday, I walked into the granddaddy of all Father’s Day massacres. The sermon was, “Fathers… the Whore-mongering Pigs and Wanderlust Dogs of the Human Race.”  I’m sure that wasn’t the actual title. The pastor spent most of his time speaking not to the men, but to their wives and to their daughters, about how disgusted they should be with us, how godly wives should shut their husband’s down, right along with any of that non-missionary funny business. Oh, no, bland, sparse, and scarce… we needed curbing. The highlight of the sermon came during one of the few moments he deigned to address the men. He said, “If you have a problem with your wife’s body, you have a problem with God!!!!!” At which point a woman, who easily tipped the scales at 400lbs, screamed out, “That’s right! You preach, Pastor!!!” Then with every eye on her, she elbowed her husband in the chest. I am not making fun… I am not exactly skinny myself… but as a capstone to male humiliation you couldn’t have found a better shtick.

I was low going in; I was scraping the floor going out. I had had enough of being insulted on Father’s Day. Father’s Day should extol the glories of fatherhood, encouraging father’s in their task, calling their children to honor. Are some fathers stinkers? Yes. Are some fathers just plain evil? Yes, just like some mothers are. But in a culture that often disenfranchises men, celebrating only feminine virtues (which should be celebrated in women), I want to stand up for fathers; I want to thank my father in heaven for my father on earth.

My father was strength under control, sense in an overly emotional world, restraint to my overly emotional soul. He made me confront my fears when I wanted to run. My father is why I got up when I fell down, sucked it up when I wanted to cry, stood up when my knees wanted to buckle. He is why I worked when I was tired, awoke when I wanted to sleep, and said thank you when I wanted to complain. He helped me walk it off, when I felt my limbs would fall off, and to keep going when everything in me wanted to quit. He taught me to honor my mother, to lend my strength to my grandparents, to never hit my sister no matter how much she deserved it… and, thus, to restrain myself before my wife… even when every bone shook with rage. He demanded please and I’m sorry until I really meant them.

Was he a perfect father, a majestic reflection of the heavenly version? No. But he blessed my life in a way that my mother, though she was a good mother, could not have hoped to. I will always honor fatherhood no matter how imperfectly carried out, for mothers without fathers are only half of God’s plan for families.[1]

[1] I realize that things happen in this world and that some families will be broken. There will be single mothers; there will be single fathers. I do not intend to diminish their efforts to be doubly there for their children, by God’s grace. I speak here, of God’s design for family from the beginning.

3 thoughts on “I Hate Father’s Day—a Tribute to Fathers

  1. John Gilkenson says:

    Great and timely points from my vantage point. I just wonder how it jives with much of younger generation and much of the “black” church. I know when we had a last child 15 years ago at Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro we were the only married couple in the maternity ward. All else single women.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Although I didn’t grow up with Paul, I still think of your dad as one of the most Godly men I know. I have met few men that stand for God and their family’s’ like your dad does even to this day. A fitting tribute and a great point about the sermons too.

      1. Fr. Jacobs says:

        You raise a good point about fathers. I mirror all that you said about your father. I am wondering what gender the this preacher is. If he is a married man, I guess he is included in the equation. We are bunch of imperfect creatures gender notwithstanding. I am one of those stuborn children that God has. He has to put up with me sometimes, when I have to ask Him to explain my theological dilemmas or life issues, or when I am frustrated with Him not intervening when I am in dire need for Him to do so. I don’t think that I am really excited about my heavenly father during those times but that does not mean that God is not a good God. I guess this preacher may have had a terrible father and is projecting that to every father.

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