Father’s Day has now passed, and many people were kind enough to wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”. I was very lucky, and had a good father — he was a good man, a solid Catholic, and he loved my mother very much. He taught me by example, and who was, in many ways, a model of God the Father for me.
Yet sometimes I think that most of what I’ve learned about God the Father, I learned from my children. Or maybe it would be better to say that I learned about our perfect Father in Heaven by being a very imperfect father to my own children.
Peggy and I have three children — two are now adults, and one is on the cusp of adulthood. I’ve been a father for almost half my life now. My children have taught me a lot.
There are the lessons I learned from colic. We were three for three with colicky babies. If you have ever experienced colic, you know what it’s like. Each one of my children, for several weeks when they were only a few months old, would cry incessantly every single evening, for no discernible reason, into the early hours of the morning. You couldn’t get them to stop, you couldn’t ease their pain, nothing seemed to work, all you can do is walk up and down the hallway and hope that it ended soon. When it became too frustrating to bear, I would hand them off to Peggy and take a break, knowing that in a little while, it would be my turn again.
Your heart just breaks for them, they are so small and so distressed, and they can’t help themselves. You want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.
As the children have gotten older, they have grown into their free will, and I’ve learned similar lessons from the decisions they’ve made — particularly the ones I disagree with. I have done my best as a loving father to teach and model what’s right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy. But they choose to do what they wish. I can’t stop them, I can’t ease the pain they sometimes feel, all I can do is watch with sorrow as they make mistakes, and learn for themselves. I want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.
I have also tried to stay in a close relationship with our kids, and I think it helps them to have a father in their daily lives, even as adults. Yet at times there’s been physical or emotional distance between us — they move away to school, or we just don’t get along for a while. This distance is painful to me, I wish it would end, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Of course, there have also been many, many times when I have been able to rejoice with my children. They each have their own gifts, and I’ve learned to appreciate those differences, and the unique ways in which they are expressed. I have to hold them each up to certain standards — particularly moral standards — but I also have to let them flourish in their own way. And so often, it fills me with joy at being their father.
Through all of these highs and lows, my children have taught me the meaning of unconditional love — because that is my perpetual challenge, to love them and stand with them no matter what. Because of this, I think I have gained a small shadow of insight into God the Father, and how He feels about me.
Like every broken person in the world, I have been hurt and wounded, and I have damaged my relationship with my heavenly Father. I’ve gone my own way, without much regard for His. I have been too proud, or too blind, to ask Him for forgiveness. There has been distance between us, not because He has ever rejected me, but because I have kept away.
But I also have felt my Father’s unconditional love for me. I know that he rejoices when I do his will, and grieves when I do not. I know that he celebrates when I am happy, and mourns when I am sad. He is my Father, no matter what, and He will always stand with me. I know that he wants my life to be perfect, and that He will help me when it’s not.
My children have taught me all of this. So, when my kids wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”, I can be grateful to them for looking past my imperfections, and I can wish the same to my heavenly Father in His perfection.