While reading in a park last week, I watched a young dad teaching his adorable daughter how to kick a soccer ball. She was determined yet struggling with the simple motion, but her dad was unwaveringly excited nonetheless. He was patient and kept encouraging her. And eventually, when she was successful in kicking the ball a few metres forward, he picked her up and spun her around in celebration. It was one of those oh-so-perfect moments that I almost would have thought it was from a scripted commercial or film.
I was a random stranger watching from a distance, but tears swelled in my eyes. Part of me wanted to walk up to this stranger and tell him how much what he was doing mattered. Maybe I should have. But I did leave a few hours later still impacted, missing my own dad deeply, and reminded of the simple but profound reality that few people impact our lives—for better or worse—with the same depth and lasting impact as our fathers. And, likewise, few holidays meet people with as wide a variety of emotions as Father’s Day.
I recently read Donald Miller’s book, To Own a Dragon, (later released under the title, Father Fiction) in which Miller describes much of his journey of growing up without a father and how he felt like he was missing something vital because of his father’s absenteeism. While reading about Miller’s journey, my heart broke over the pain of his story, and the countless similar stories I know too.
And yet, I struggled to understand where he was coming from, because my story feels so different. Mine is a story where the only thing that put an end to my dad’s role of being strong and good and safe was the cancer that took him from us a year and a half ago. He was my hero, one of my best friends, and he loved us well because he loved Jesus well. But in the year and a half that he’s been gone, I’ve also learned and re-learned that his love, however good it was, can’t compare to the depth and consistency of God’s love, however cliché that may sound.
This year is my second fatherless Father’s Day. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to approach this day without the sting of what I’ve lost. In a different, but similar way, this day stings for me just as it does for others whom this day is tainted by the failures and shortcoming of fathers who have consistently let them down.
The best dads paint a more accurate picture of God’s love, yes, but it’s still tainted. It’s still broken.
And yet, what this day represents matters greatly, because fathers who love their families well are men worth celebrating. In fact, the pervasiveness of fatherhood failure speaks that much louder to the necessity of honouring those who get it right. But even the best of these men fail to fully represent the fullness of the heart of God. The best dads paint a more accurate picture of God’s love, yes, but it’s still tainted. It’s still broken. My dad was a good man and a good father, but God is a great God and a perfect Father. The two are eons apart, for the simple reason that a fallible man cannot touch the infinite and infallible majesty of God.
Whether amazing, apathetic, or absent: our fathers will fail us. They will let us down and disappoint us. And whether on purpose or entirely unintended, they will not always be there when we need or want them to be. However, the same cannot be said of God—our Abba—whose love for us and faithfulness to us are endless, unending and without condition.
The fact that we ascribe the same language to God and to a human being is in itself problematic. We’re doomed to misrepresentation before we even start. Because, whether he is a superman-of-sorts we admire or a villain we want to hate, on both fronts (and across the entire spectrum in between) our fathers fail to accurately represent the beauty and depth and majesty of God as Father.
And so, on this Father’s Day:
To those fathers who love well: We thank God for you. You matter immensely. The Kingdom work you are doing by loving your families well matters immensely. We don’t tell you that enough, but we are so incredibly grateful for your example. Thank you for showing glimpses of Christ to your children and to your community.
To those with fathers that love well: We rejoice with you. Cherish the gift you’ve been given. Honour these men, and do so often. But know this: God’s love is even better. Let the example your dad has given you inspire you to pursue the greater, more vast, and more extravagant love of God with even more enthusiasm.
To those whose fathers have failed you, for whatever reason and in whatever context: We mourn with you. We acknowledge the spaces of hurt and pain and we pray for healing and reconciliation. But please know this: your father’s failures are not indicative of the character of God, nor are they a picture of how deeply He loves you. Know that His heart overflows with love for you, that His strength in in you, and that He, in all of His sufficiency and majesty, is Father to the fatherless.