Fatherhood – it aint always pretty

For many, Father’s Day is difficult. I get it.

I grew up without a father.

the early years

My parents divorced very early on in my childhood. My mother was a 20 year old new city transplant coming from a small town in New Mexico, where chile fields were and still are gold. My father was a new city AND a new country transplant hailing from a back-country deep-in-the-heart-of Mexico pueblito. They married young and divorced no sooner than they got married, but not before having 3 daughters to care for, or keep alive.

I have very few memories of my dad in the lives of my sisters and I when my family lived in Los Angeles eons ago. I remember strawberry fields that he worked at where he picked, back when L.A county had more plots of land growing produce than malls and coffee spots. I remember thinking he had the best job in the world because he had access to all the strawberries he wanted. I remember proudly carrying a pallet of strawberries back into my mother’s apartment when he dropped us off, like it was some kind of jackpot.

My father spoke very little English and jobs were hard to come by for a first generation Mexican country boy living in a foreign metropolitan city, in spite of his brand new green card that he secured marrying my American citizen mother. But at the time, we didn’t care about any of that. We just knew our young bellies were happy because they were filled with strawberries that our dad allowed us to pick ourselves. When my parents were married, they were a struggling lower working class couple, figuring out how to live a married life. With zero point no life skills, their marriage was doomed to fail.

My mother was abandoned as a child to be raised by her grandmother because her own mother chose to chase after men instead of caring for the children she had with the men she chased. My great grandmother took in her daughter’s 2 oldest children to add to her own 9 and cared for all of them by herself in a two room dirt floor home since her own husband died. The only men in my mother’s life were her teenage uncles. It’s no wonder that my mother was clueless as to what a wife ought to look like, much less what a father’s role was supposed to look like in a family structure. She had no reference point.In her eyes, men were irrelevant. Fatherhood was a concept unknown to my mother, as it would be for me.

My father remarried soon after the divorce to my mother was finalized and once a step mom entered the picture, my mother could not handle her own anger and jealousy. Rage filled our apartment life and physical abuse was the only method of discipline my mother knew. We became apartment nomads, moving year after year, in search of a cheaper apartment since my mother lived off of government assistance with no child support from my father, who could barely support his own new family with the odd jobs he picked up.

Visits with my dad, our new step mom, and new brothers, turned into guilt fests where we had to hide our excitement or happiness after our short visits with him, lest our mother rage out at us and threaten to abandon us to him. In hindsight, that probably would not have been such a horrible thing.

Those visits with our dad became less and less. My mother had men in and out of her life like a revolving door. The concept of a father enveloped into a negative consequence to fear. Our idea of a father was formed through my mother’s threats of punishment that eventually became ingrained in the minds and hearts of my sisters and I.

Not only did my mother outwardly express how much she hated my father, she also verbally lashed out at all men. They were all “good for nothing”, though I don’t think she really meant that because she seemed to have a new boyfriend every other week (but that’s an entireley different blog post)

{side note: My father came back into our lives when my sisters and I were in our early 20’s. I don’t have the greatest relationship with him but I love him anyway. I don’t have any expectations from him so I am free to appreciate and accept him just as he is}

the outcome

Naturally, I grew up believing all men were losers too, especially after having two toddler daughters of my own by the time I was 20, with no support from either of my daughters fathers. Cyclical generational sin was rearing its ugly head. My life mirrored that of my mother and grandmother and if I am going to be honest, I didn’t believe there was anything inherently wrong with seeing men as irrelevant and/or life destroyers.

By the time I turned 29, I was pregnant with my 3rd daughter. I told that man I was not going to raise another child on my own so he better marry me. That marriage lasted 3 years, with about a year of that being separated due to physical and emotional abuse and infidelity. However, my own patterns of behavior as a wife were not stellar either. I was overly dramatic, combative, argumentative, aggressive and hostile in my character. Regardless of having every reason to be, these character traits were ultimately protective measures against men in general.

I could go on and on with story after story of all my negative experiences with men and fatherhood.  Covering every topic from misogyny, abandonment, sexual abuse, rejection, emotional degradation neglect, etc. What I shared here, publicly, is the easier stuff to write about. If there is anyone that would be expected to be bitter, angry or hurt at having imperfect examples of manhood and fatherhood or feeling cheated for not having a father at all, it should be me. I have 33 years of failed fatherhood/manhood experiences that I could bank my bitterness or sadness on. Heck, I should even be a man-hating feminist.

But God….

But God, had other plans for me that did not include lifelong lamenting towards men and fatherhood.

A year after God gave me the the gift of faith, he also gifted me with a husband who loves Jesus. God began to show me what a father was supposed to look like, in the form of my new husband. On top of all the painful learning that was taking place, God also chose to give me another gift – our own man-child to raise.

After salvation, I learned the value, worth and necessity of men in the life of a family structure. I’ve had to learn what fatherhood looks like by watching my husband interact with his step daughters and our son. Sometimes I have accused him of “doing it all wrong”, though I really have no earthly idea what “right” is supposed to look like. I have had to plead with God on a consistent basis to help me figure out how to allow my husband ( meaning give up my reigns of self preservation) to take on the role of a husband and father to lead my heart and our family, which has been far from easy.

Learning how to trust my husband to lead our family in his own way, while simultaneously putting to death my inability to trust all men, caused serious setbacks in the early years of our marriage.

There is NO way…..let me say that again…..

THERE. IS. NO. WAY….. I would have been able to do any kind of growing, maturing, or recognizing on my own without the ever present, ever trusting, always leading of God’s Holy Spirit.

The ability to see the Holy Spirit at work in my husband’s life as well, is another gift from God. Once I recognized that the Holy Spirit was moving in him to help him lead us well, I realized I didn’t have to be combative in my interactions with him.

I had learned and am still learning how to keep my mouth quiet when I think I am right in any given circumstance. When I am not quiet, an argumentative spirit quickly, almost by default, rises up in my flesh that makes things worse. I have to constantly put to death my desire to be “right”. I’ve had to learn how to quench the need to always have the last word. I am thankful that hostility and aggression towards all men, especially the men in MY  life, no longer rules my heart.

God has been faithful to provide what my husband and I both need to continually look to each others interests first (Philippians 2:4). More often than not, my husband does a much better job than I in showing what that looks like. However, I am able to see his selflessness and recognize it, even when my pride wants to dismiss it.

The beauty of how the Holy Spirit works in a believers life is when we are made aware that our own stubbornness can be used by God. Nothing is wasted in God’s equation.

1) Remember

Fatherhood and the value of a man in a family structure is massively important to me. I discovered that it was important by reading God’s word. I remember what it felt like growing up without having a father. I also remember that I used to believe all men were useless figures in a woman’s life.

The Old Testament is filled with the history of God’s prophets and leaders telling the people of Israel to remember. Through these historical accounts they were reminded of where (Egypt) and what (slavery and desert wanderings) the LORD had delivered them from and where (the Promised Land) the LORD had brought them into. Remembering their days of bondage and slavery in Egypt, in conjunction with the means in which God had saved them, was meant to help orient their heart posture in such a way that would cause them to worship God in humble thankfulness.

Because I know my own history with fatherhood, or lack thereof, I am able to appreciate my husband with a greater depth, because I know all to well the alternative. I am able to look past his imperfections as a husband and father and see his redeeming qualities that were completely foreign to me.

Psalms 126:3 says that the Lord has done great things for us, so we should be glad. My remembering what God has done, I am very much glad. In my gladness, I celebrate daily. My husband and boy are daily reminders of the great things the Lord has done for me. And for this reason alone, I will never apologize for having a faithful husband, a dedicated, though imperfect servant father for my children and my own man-child to love, train and raise up to one day be a God loving faithful father to his own children and wife.

Moses writes the book of Deuteronomy to help Israel remember what God had done for them, especially in their redemption from Egypt. Through God’s spirit, Moses penned the words of God to help Israel in recollecting.  David writes a song of remembrance in Psalm 105, recounting the mighty deeds God had done for his people. Recollecting/Remembering was not only helpful for their present day circumstances, it is also helpful for our present day circumstances. God did not want the people of Israel to remember simply for the sake of remembering. Remembering demands action. That action was and still is trust.

2) Trust

Rightly remembering what God had done for the people of Israel, God then required that his people trust him. Trusting him was crucial because they were on their way to the Promised Land and they were about to experience difficult circumstances.

God wants us to trust him with all our heart, mind and soul. We should not lean on our own understanding, especially when our experiences don’t make any sense. In all our ways, we should acknowledge that we have a good Heavenly Father that knows what he is doing, even if our ideas of an earthly father causes pain or the men in our life has left life shattering consequences. We must trust that our Father above will make our paths straight. Not straight according to our own ideas of straight, but God’s idea of straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Jesus is that straight path.
Jesus is our promised land.

Trusting God and believing that Jesus is our straight path and promised land is not easy. We can say with our mouths that we trust God with our bad experiences but our emotions are far from trusting. This is where the Bible is helpful. True trust is external, meaning it must show outwardly.  It’s not something we can conjure up on our own. We need help to trust. We get that help by reading our Bibles and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we put ourselves in a position, mentally and physically, where we can rest on God’s promises. Allowing bitterness and anger over a past filled with failed fatherhood experiences tells God he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Jeremiah 17:7 says “Blessed is the man (or woman) who trusts in the LORD and whose trust IS the LORD”.

Trusting in God and his promises is believing that God himself is our only trust and Jesus is our perfect promise.

Trust in God through Jesus must also be done wholly and entirely. Our hearts are directly connected to our minds, our emotions and sensibilities, and our will. Having Biblical trust in God means that we are submitting all of these things to God and His word. When we look at the failures of the men in our lives and allow doubt in God to grow and take root, we are actually doubting God’s goodness. We are not believing God at all. The opposite of faith is not doubt in God, but unbelief in God. If this is the case, repent and believe. No earthly circumstance, no matter how painful, is worth unbelief in God.

Tim Keller tells us to doubt our own doubts. When we are filled with doubting God’s goodness because of our painful past or present circumstances, let us remember doubting Thomas. Thomas saw his savior crucified with his own eyes. Facts told him Jesus was dead.

Can any one of us say that we have personally experienced seeing the Messiah crucified? Can our circumstances come close to trumping that?

Jesus comes to Thomas and knows that the internal pain he experienced in seeing him crucified caused Thomas to doubt the possibility that there was something better than the emotional pain  Thomas endured watching Him die. Jesus didn’t negate Thomas’s pain. But Christ wanted Thomas to see that there was something better. That something was showing Thomas that He was still alive. Seeing and believing in a resurrected Christ turns lamenting over our past painful experiences into joy and hope.

Trust in God means seeing Christ, going to Christ and not allowing bitterness, anger or resentment to grow stagnant in our hearts. If we ever get to the point where we say “I will never believe” (John 20: 25) that God is good because of our past or present circumstances, we can look to the Bible and  remember Thomas. We can take comfort in knowing that Christ did not reject Thomas in his moment of doubt. Neither will Christ reject us in our moment or season of doubt.

3) Thankfulness

For those that struggle with celebrating or acknowledging Father’s Day because of a past littered with a not so worthy father, or unworthy men in general, I plea with them to:

1) remember where you come from
2) trust God by looking to Christ
3) if you still have breath, be thankful

In a House of Prayer: The Message of 2nd Chronicles, Stewart writes:

Too often God’s people forget his goodness, and what the Lord has done for them, as they move on to new things, but this was not so in the case of Jehoshaphat and his people. Their rejoicing in God was not momentary, but ongoing. 

Because ‘His love endures for ever’, so too must the grateful response of people who have been so greatly blessed. We need to remind ourselves of the blessings we have received. We do this by regularly setting aside time to count our blessings. There is no better way to remember how God has blessed us than the regular reading of the Scriptures. They constantly show us how ‘His love endures for ever.’

James 1:17 says that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

My husband is far from a perfect husband. He is far from a perfect father. But I rest in knowing and believing that God says he is perfect for me and for our family.

God alone knew what my heart and mind needed to redeem manhood and fatherhood. There is no way to circumvent being thankful for my husband without first thanking God for gifting me with my husband.

Stewart writes : how often do we keep to ourselves the breathtaking news of what the Lord has done for us? May he stir us up to proclaim his greatness!

I never want to take for granted what God called me from –> dead in sin nature
to what he has called me to –> resurrection life
and the power (Holy Spirit) that he allows me to walk in newness of life –> progressive sanctification

Instead of looking at past clouds of stormy circumstances that have occurred in my past, I am learning to look at the seemingly insignificant details of every day life. I am able to then give thanks to God for my husband for redeeming fatherhood and manhood in His perfect time.

Every day he goes to work to support our family, I thank God.
Every day he comes home from work, I thank God.
Every day he is a faithful husband, I thank God.
Every day he serves others with his gifts and abilities, I thank God.
Every day he leads my heart when it becomes filled with anxiety, I thank God.
Every day he shows the children love and patience, I thank God.
Every day he exhibits a calm spirit to my crazy one, I thank God.
Every day he holds my hand, I thank God.
Every day he picks up a book that I want him to read, I thank God, even though I know he will never finish it because he’s not a reader.
Every day he prays for our family and for others, I thank God.
Every day he opens his eyes and reads his Bible without skipping a beat, I thank God.

Father’s Day is every day in my heart and mind. I don’t need a day to honor God’s gift to me. I will never apologize for having a husband who leads our family well and loves us deeply.

I know that there are some who struggle with this day because of past hurts and I get that. For those that do, all I got is scripture to point you to:

* Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5).

* How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart (Ps 119:2).

* you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:1)

Then I will encourage you to:

1) remember – the good and the bad in your life, but don’t let the bad stuff define you

2) trust God – through the good and the bad stuff in your life by looking at Christ and clinging/reading/studying God’s word, the Bible, even when the Bible doesn’t make sense. Trust me, eventually it will, or seek out others to help you understand.

3) be thankful – for Christ, because your faith in Christ is the only thing that is ever really worth being thankful for. The rest of the good stuff in your life, is just extra or bonus stuff that is meant to point you back to the Giver. Practice being continuously thankful to the Giver of gifts so that you can appreciate that much more His gifts.

This post is dedicated to and inspired by my husband, a gift from my Good Heavenly Father.

Stewart, A. (2001). A House of Prayer: The Message of 2 Chronicles (p. 229). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.


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