#WithoutDad: Part 2

February 19, 2015 at 7:25 pm



     In a previous post I reflected on the recent Superbowl ad run by Nissan and subsequent popularity of the hashtag #WithDad. In short,  I challenged the assumption that absent fathers are given an untold number of chances to enter the lives of their adult children in later years. The unrealistic expectation that children, of whatever age, are spending their lives waiting endlessly at the window for dad to finally come home is a farce that has rarely, if ever, played out in real life. 

     The more common story is a tragedy in which children who grow up without a father, quite simply, walk with a limp. Like many aspects of a fallen world, when creation tries to function outside of God’s design, it crumbles a bit. This is not a sullen cynicism, or resolved defeatism, this is the reality of our created world gone awry. Children were designed to be cared for by a mother and father. And just as a bike is intended to be ridden on two tires full of air, a flat in either tube makes the pedaling a tad bit harder. Not impossible mind you, just more difficult. And I have found that people often respond in one of only two ways to the wound.

     One is to simply trash the bike, just leave it on the side of the road or toss it with great emotion into a nearby dumpster like Ralph Macchio in this scene from the 80’s classic, The Karate Kid. Anger is a natural response to loss. One that comes especially easy to anyone who finds themselves grinding away the miles on the shoulder of the road while bikes with fully functional wheels seem to fly past. It is often in the middle of this struggle that many children begin to write the script of their life. “I don’t have a father so…” our minds fill in the blank – I won’t be loved, sufficient, valuable, appreciated, significant

     Unfortunately, children who can’t rewrite the script almost always end up repeating the history. Like the familiar words of Chapin’s classic as it plays in the background of the Nissan ad,  “He’d grown up just like me, my boy, was just like me.” In this scenario the pain of a fatherless past becomes the window through which everything is viewed. The wound becomes an identity that distorts the truth and simultaneously blames, while never taking responsibility. As walking with a limp becomes increasingly more complicated and difficult, the bitterness consumes from the inside until the abandoned becomes an abandoner. We become what we worship, worship the wound and you will become a wounder.       

     But there is a second option. It is a response taken by some that stems from the firm conviction that God is both in control and passionately pursuing the good of his family. It is the theology best described by Joseph and his bold announcement found in the pages of Genesis, the audacious claim that what was intended for our evil was actually allowed by God for our good (Gen. 50:20).  

     To be clear God doesn’t write sin into our lives, he is not the author of our tragedy, but he does allow it for purposes in our life that we are promised will end in his intended vision for us all (see Dan Allender’s book To Be Told for more on this). For many, this biblical insistence on the innocence and goodness of God in light of our suffering is the very epicenter of what it means to have faith in the unseen. Consequently, embracing or rejecting this truth plays the ultimate role in how we chose to live with a limp; whether the bike is tossed onto the garbage heap or becomes the wheels on which we ride to victory.

     Walking with a limp is not unique to the fatherless. For some their limp may come by way of violence, abuse, poverty, illness, addiction, or some other means, but everyone has a limp. The bible calls it our “weakness” and it is, in the greatest of ironies, the doorway through which God’s strength takes center stage of our lives. When seen through the truth of this theological framework, the limp of the fatherless can be rightly understood to be the very means of God’s active grace in the lives of the abandoned. Far from being an inadequacy to overcome, the wound left by an absent father is seen by the healthy as a necessary ingredient in the story of their lives. People who recognize their limp as an opportunity instead of an obstacle realize that they could never be who they are today without the wisdom of the Father who didn’t stop dad from walking out the front door. 

     Truth be told, I have responded both ways to the hole left in my life by my wayward father. I have trashed my bike more than once and cursed it for its useless, wobbly wheel. I have blamed my addictions, broken relationships, anxiously driven career and selfishness on him. I have been angry, I have been bitter, I have been full of self-pity and rage. And, like clockwork, I began to see “the sins of the fathers” visited upon me in catastrophic ways. I was becoming the wound I worshiped. 

     But by God’s grace and through the loving support of a godly wife and patient counselors, I have been able to now receive my limp as a gift. In ways that would defy the boundaries of this page to explain in full, suffice to say that my role as a pastor, counselor, father and husband has been profoundly prepared by the wisdom of the Father who promises to never walk out on any of us.  

     We are all tempted at times to believe that we could have gotten further with two good legs, or been faster on a pair of working wheels. But rest assured, it is equally sure that you would not find yourself on the path you are right now if the story had been written any differently. Pedal on with your broken feet and trust the wounded healer who is guiding you.