Today is Father’s Day, and too often I think we use days like today to celebrate the things our dads have done right, and totally disregard all of their mistakes. Or, conversely, focus solely on the things our dads have done wrong. This morning, I listened to a sermon about the pressure that dads face, and how we are to respond to both their successes and shortcomings. As I sat down to write something in honor of my dad, I struggled with the inability honestly celebrate my dad while simultaneously taking into account that he is not perfect. My parents started out really young; dad was 22 when I was born and my mom was only 18. My dad has told me time and time again he made mistakes when I was little, and how sorry he is. He did a lot of the things a lot of dads do wrong…but somehow, my dad is still the best. I was trying to figure out how that is, and this is what I came up with.
1. He told me, “No.”
No, you can’t have another cookie. No, you can’t go see that movie. No, you can’t go to that concert. No, your boyfriend can’t come over while you’re home alone. No, you can’t go to that party. No, you can’t quit studying. No, you can’t take the easy way out. Hearing the word no is something I’m used to, and as a kid, it was hard to deal with. It took me a long time to realize it, but each and every one of those no’s was my dad protecting me, teaching me how to make wise decisions, looking out for me…for my health, for my relationship with God, for my earthly relationships, for my education, for my general wellbeing.
No, you can’t go to Africa. My dad and I are a lot alike in many ways, but primarily in that we don’t like being told no. As soon as we hear the word no, a little voice in our heads accepts it as a challenge. This was the hardest no I have ever had to deal with. My Father was telling me to go, but my dad was saying no. My dad’s no forced me onto my knees before my Father, forced me out on a limb to apply for my first trip to Swaziland, forced me to trust my Father to provide. Even if my dad didn’t realize it, he allowed himself to be used as a tool of the Lord to trust my faith, to see how far I was willing to push the envelope on behalf of my calling to Kingdom work. We have both had the chance to grow…in fact, my dad was the one to inform me the Swaziland application was available for my second trip.
2. He didn’t treat me like a girl.
There are 15 years between my brother and I, so growing up, I was the oldest of three girls. Not only that, but growing up, I was a daddy’s girl. Because of that, he didn’t treat me like a girl. Dresses were for church and special occasions only; gym shoes were my go-to shoes. My dad grew up with a brother, and had all sorts of manly information to pass on to someone…me. I know how to change a tire, how to parallel park almost anywhere, how to change the oil in my car, how to strategically pack everything I own into my car, how to shoot a gun, how to defend myself (and someone else) if necessary, how to win almost any argument (except with him, of course), how to lead others and take people by surprise in doing so, how not to take no for an answer. He taught me how a man should treat me, and how to stand up to any man who treated me poorly. He taught me the things that a man should do for me, like opening doors and walking on the outside of the sidewalk, but more importantly, he taught me how not to need a man to do those things for me. He taught me how to be independent and that’s the best gift he could give me.
3. He’s never around. Prior to 9/11 and for a short while afterwards, he worked in the airline industry. During the crash following 9/11, he was unemployed because airlines were laying people off left and right, going bankrupt, and no one was hiring. He started working in other fields because they paid the bills…he sold cars for awhile. Worked at some security/safety consulting agencies. Worked nights and FedEx for a long time because it paid well and provided our family with medical insurance. He taught night classes at a local community college after his day job to bring in extra income to help make ends meet. He joined the Air National Guard shortly after 9/11, and committed to one drill weekend a month to serve our country. He’s missed choir concerts, soccer games, plays, show choir competitions, birthdays…all of those things dads should be there for, he has missed because he was always trying to provide for our family, which is far more important than showing up for a two-hour choir concert.
4. He’s left my family behind.
He has been deployed 3 times and been assigned to more long-term stateside trainings than I can count. There was one time we added up all the months he’s been away from our family, and while I can’t recall the exact amount, it was multiple years of time. He is getting ready to embark on his fourth long term deployment, and will once again be leaving us behind for six to seven months. This is the hardest one to explain to people, and the hardest one for others to understand. It took me years of being an Air Force brat to understand that sometimes, there are people in the world that need my dad to fight for them more than I need my dad here. He taught me how to take care of my car, how to defend myself and my siblings, how to take care of myself and my mom, how to be independent when he can’t be here. There aren’t many things he could teach me than how to be there for myself when he can’t.
5. He told me I wasn’t good enough.
I remember getting B’s in a few English classes in middle school, and my dad lecturing me for it. You speak English. There’s no reason to get a B. That’s not good enough. I distinctly remember the first time I came home with a C+ on a report card. It was the first quarter of the eighth grade, and my 78% C+ was in geometry. I brought it to my parents after dinner, and in return received a lecture on how I wasn’t trying hard enough. I need to apply myself. I need to study harder, talk to the teacher outside of class, ask friends for help. C’s are not good enough. I remember trying to pick classes for my freshman year of high school, and contemplating leaving the honors program I had been part of since the fourth grade. Taking the easy way out is not good enough. As I mentioned before, that little voice in my head hears things like “You can’t do that” or “That’s not good enough” and replies, Challenge accepted. My dad held high expectations over my head so that I might exceed them.
So yeah, my dad isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s not even close. He’s made mistakes. He continues to make mistakes. We hold him accountable, but hold him in grace so he might continue to grow in Christ and as a father. He might be sorry for his mistakes, but I’m certainly not. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and where I am going with my life. Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.