Our Father Who Art On Earth June 15, 2008

Our Father Who Art On Earth

It’s our earthly fathers with whom we have our father issues. It’s our earthly fathers who abandoned us or nurtured us, who ignored or paid attention to us, who abused or protected us, our earthly fathers whom we never knew, slightly knew, or knew all too well. We have felt for them love, hate, wonder, disinterest, trust, suspicion, generosity and jealousy. Our relationship with our fathers has always been complicated.

Many children grow up with an absent parent and most often the missing parent is the father. Fathers are taken away by their callowness, their courage, their fecklessness or their fidelity. They sail away unknowing of their fatherhood, march off to die in war, slink out to avoid responsibility or live on the road bound to their responsibility. They might be present physically but still absent emotionally, made unavailable to us by distraction, worry, addiction or the aloofness of a misguided version of masculinity.

Small wonder that many religions make The Absent One a father figure. He is the one mysteriously missing, longed for yet feared, absent yet present in stories repeated until we know them by rote. He is the one we learn about only from our mothers, those with aprons or the Mother Church. Regardless of her reassurances of His love and the reasons she gives, we never fully understand why He isn’t here.

But our earthly fathers were here and may still be here. Whether or not they gave us themselves, they at least gave us life. They gave us half of what we are, perhaps deliberately or accidentally in their microscopic donation to our mothers, their partner for a single night, a few years or a lifetime. They may have given us much more, both good and bad, painful and pleasant, obvious and still obscure. They may have been fathers on many levels.

So here’s to the earthly fathers, and simultaneously here’s to the daughters and sons who make them fathers, for one cannot be without the other. We must honor our earthly fathers whether they are honorable or not, present or not, available or not, approachable or not, dedicated or not, known or not. They are half of us so when we honor them we honor ourselves.

Those of us who are fathers honor our own fathers by showing our children the dedication our fathers showed us or by showing the dedication that they would have, could have or should have given us. We honor them by being better.

Happy Fathers’ Day.

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  • Doris Tracey

    This is beautifully said…Thank You!

  • Tom

    Yes, well put!

    I got to thinking today about the bum rap that Joseph got for his whole role as the earthly “father” to Jesus. Supposedly Jesus was conceived from a heavenly father, but you’ve got to think about all that time Jesus must have spent growing up with Joseph as his de facto Dad. You never hear about it though! With all the virtuous deeds that Jesus went on to do, you’d think that Joseph would get some credit for being a good mentor! But you never really hear about it…

    My heart goes out to all the plain old Earth fathers today.

  • Ashes

    Whoa there.. I was thinking this was a beautiful and excellently written reflection, but then at the end, you swoop in with this:

    We must honor our earthly fathers whether they are honorable or not, present or not, available or not, approachable or not, dedicated or not, known or not. They are half of us so when we honor them we honor ourselves.

    We should know better than anyone else that honour unearned is honour that must be questioned. Your reasoning gives absentees and even abusive fathers far too much credit — speaking just for myself, I am far more now than what I was at birth, and I rather resent the implication that my “father” (who, as you’ve guessed, is no longer part of my life) is somehow “half of me”.

    To be fair, my resistance is tinged with emotion.. But when I look at it as rationally as I can, your reasoning here appears unfounded.

    (Regardless, well said on the whole. Enjoy your Father’s Day!)

  • Richard Wade

    Ashes, I fully understand your point of view, and I don’t dispute it. Our families are the sources of both our greatest joy and our greatest pain. I speak of honor not as a noun but as a verb. As a quality it may be present in a person or not present. As an activity it is a healing process. To honor, or in some cases more to forgive benefits the forgiver much more than the forgiven. The recipient of the honoring/forgiving/accepting/reconciling/resolving act may be long gone, but the act soothes the pain of the sender and brings out their best qualities.

    Dads sometimes don’t do fatherhood well. Mothers have a strong physical bond with their children. They remember full well the powerful, physically intimate process of gestation, birthing and nursing. For fathers it’s more conceptual. They have to keep reminding themselves that they are fathers. Their bonds can be strong, but its basis is more abstract, less concrete than that of the mothers. That’s not an excuse for fathers who are neglectful, abusive or aloof, just a partial explanation for why some don’t fulfill their role very well.

    So if our fathers were dedicated or despicable is beside the point I’m trying to make. Honoring our fathers is honoring the father in ourselves, the father that we can be. For the word honor here read “heal” instead of “laud” or “praise.” If our personal circumstances don’t include closeness with our own dads, we can honor fatherhood rather than a specific person. Whether we have kids or not we have opportunities to be good fathers to others. In doing that we nurture a wonderful and beautiful part of ourselves.

  • Joanna

    Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I’ve been thinking about fatherhood all day. Especially since watching the footage and memorials about Tim Russert’s untimely death. As the face and voice of “Meet the Press” on Sunday mornings, his presence will be sadly missed. For folks like me, it’s been my Sunday morning ritual to see and hear what Russert had to say about the week’s newstories & political events!

    My father always seemed “larger than life” as I was growing up. Now, as he grows older and is in his 70’s, it is tough to imagine life without him around to ask advice from. And tough to see fraility in a man that’s always been so strong. He remains one of those people that has kept up with current events and has an opinion about any topic. He’s a lifelong reader and history buff. He’s got a rather cantankerous side, too, but his 3 daughters know it’s mostly bluffing.

    Dad and I certainly have had our share of arguments/debates, that’s for sure. We are at different ends of the political and religious spectrums. But in the end, parents who love their kids unconditionally are not threatened by differences of opinion! I have used that philosophy in my own parenting style. I know it causes my parents some pain to realize that their daughter is not a religious person, but they eventually accepted it…as part of who I am, not as some way they “failed” as parents. They gave me the freedom to choose my path….what better quality could a parent have?

    I’ve tried to be self-reliant and self-sufficient, but my parents have always been available whenever I most needed them. That’s family. I feel very fortunate. My father was able to provide his children whatever help we required…even when we were too proud to ask for help! And he has softened up in his senior years…much more affectionate than I remember him while growing up. I would hope every man can feel the warmth and affection fathers feel toward their children…to share fun times together and never get too serious as adults.

    On today’s tv broadcasts, as people described Tim Russert’s enthusiasm and “little boy” qualities…the parts that are passionate about life and living… I couldn’t help thinking that men really need to keep that “little boy” quality alive in themselves as parents and adults..that natural curiosity and even mischievous nature that defines a great dad! Stay involved…stay connected. Even if you don’t have children of your own, take the time to be a role model to young men and boys…expand the definition of Father….be a mentor to those struggling with the many conflicting definitions of being a man in this world of ours.

  • It is my theory (oh no, not again…) that most men have issues with their fathers, and most women have issues with their mothers. I have many thoughts on why this could be, which I won’t get into here.

    The truth of the matter is that most of us do the best that we can with what we know at the time. Even the ones that abuse or abandon their post, it is the best they can give, given the circumstances.

    So, Richard, I have to disagree with the last statement of your very beautifully written post.

    I believe we honor them not by being better, but by accepting them for who they are, who they were… exactly as they were. We have to believe they did their best with what they knew. They were only human, as we are. Regardless of where they fall on the parenting-skills scale, they were exactly as they should have been to shape us into who we are today and who we will be tomorrow. Then and only then can we truly appreciate and honor them… and, ultimately, love them unconditionally.

    Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, each of whom are perfect in their own way, just as they are!

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