My Story Part 3: Father Figures

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15–16

Way back in 2001 I was living in Hamilton, Ontario, and studying at McMaster University. I was also going through a season of anxiety and depression. And while on the phone one day with my Mother, I ended up talking about how when I was in Junior High I decided not to go through with meeting my biological father. I had never met him in person, had no relationship with him, and had only had minimal contact on the phone. Anyway, I don’t recall how the topic came up between my Mom and I, but my recollection was that I had begun to make arrangements to meet my biological father in person but had changed my mind. I remember saying something along the lines of, “Well, Mom, I’ve got a mother who loves me, and I’ve come this far without a father.” Or something like that.

I was sure that’s how things went.

But when I said this while on the phone with my Mom, there was quiet on the other end of the conversation. Then she said, “Derek, that’s not how it went.”

Let’s just say that things can happen to us that are so painful and difficult to process that our minds hide the truth to protect us. It’s like we have this internal psychological and emotional defensive mechanism. For me, this meant replacing the truth of what had happened with a much less painful, but false version of a profound moment in my life.

“You went to meet him, and he never showed up.”

I was speechless. My Mom’s words hit me hard and reopened a wound I didn’t even know was there.

The truth is this: I’ve been living out the pain of having been abandoned by my biological father for decades. Although I haven’t always realized it. But this reality has shaped me, how I see myself, and how I relate to other people, especially other men. It’s also affected my relationship with God. Only in recent years have I really begun to reckon with this wound and been able to let God in to begin healing it.

Let me be clear, when I say that I have been living out of the pain of this experience of a father not showing up, I don’t mean that I have been daily lamenting this sad fact of my existence. I don’t even mean that I been conscious of the pain as pain. Or at least not as pain about having been abandoned by this person who is partly responsible for bringing me into the world but who I’ve never met.

No, I mean the pain of having become someone who has often felt insecure as a man and has felt like a boy who’s never quite grown past adolescence, a child trying to make his way in an adult world and feeling out of place the whole time. I mean feeling like I don’t belong. I mean not being able to accept that there is a God who loves and accepts me–who actually desires to be my Father.

It’s funny that I didn’t even remember an experience that has had such far-reaching consequences for my life.

So why do I share all of this?

While it’s taken years, I have come to know and experience an infinitely better, more loving, ever-present Father. God the Father will never abandon me and reject me. Because through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit I have been adopted by God the Father as a son. I am his.

Lots of people have “daddy” issues. It’s a narrative woven even into pop-culture, in the lives of TV and movie characters we know and love. I am hardly unique. I am not alone in being hurt by a parent figure. Heck, even those of us parents who love our children might still hurt them in one way or another!

The point is people–including those closest to us, family, those who are supposed to care for us–will disappoint us. They will let us down. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the man who is my biological father is (was?) a good man, a decent guy, who went on to have a family who he loved and who loved him. Indeed, really, he’s more of an abstraction to me, a symbol. That he chose on that day not to show up and meet me doesn’t neccessarily make him especially evil or malicious. It does, however, mean that he’s simply another sinful human being capable of making poor choices because of fear and selfishness.

All the more reason to be grateful that I have a God, a Father, to whom I belong. Sure, I don’t trust him perfectly, but I am learning to do so. I will be for the rest of my life. But for that process to move ahead, for me to grow to trust my heavenly Father more and more, I have had to contend with what happened all those years ago.

Maybe you have been wounded too. Surely you have somehow. No doubt someone has hurt you. And perhaps you’ve chosen to push it down and push it away, believing that this is how to move on. I understand. But the problem is, by ignoring our pain it has its way with us: with how we relate to others, ourselves, and to God. Just like a physical wound left untreated can become infected and cause more damage, so with emotional wounds. Though beginning treatment can often be painful (because it’s scary and difficult!), it is a pain that actually leads to healing and freedom, bit by bit, step by step. God the Father is a precise and tender physician. You can learn to trust him with your deepest hurts, just as I did and continue to do.

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