One: Absent father works himself into a drunken oblivion. Preoccupied with his own existence. Distant from his kids. Resentful of his wife. Concerned only for his own well-being while hiding under the cover that he is providing and taking care of all of his family’s needs. Love is earned based on good deeds and successful outcomes and held back when failure and disappointment rises to the surface.
Two: Loving father works hard so that he can play hard. Makes sure he is at every sporting event and recital. Works hard at his marriage and while he doesn’t always get it right, he’s in it for the long haul. He loves his wife and kids, not because of what or how well they can do, but because they are his wife and kids. They can do nothing to earn his love, and thus can do nothing to lose his love.
I’ll get right to it; I’m worried that fear is a stronger emotion than love. I’m worried that the love that wins out in movies doesn’t exist, except, hopefully, in the heart of God. I’m worried that the smallest ounce of a deep fear realized can completely shatter a lifetime of love.
Before you think I’m cold and heartless, allow me to explain what I’m talking about.
In the two scenarios I gave at the beginning about a father, I think we could all agree that we’d rather have the second one. He seems like he would be a pretty cool dad. The differences are obvious and the outcomes, as far as the children are concerned, would be similarly visible.
But what if the second father ended up in some sort of compromising controversy. What if the second father cheated, just once, on his wife? What if the second father had a momentary lapse in judgment and yelled at his kids or even worse, hit them? What if the second father did something that shattered the perfect image of himself and of the love he portrayed? It takes a lifetime to build the trust, love and respect of your friends and family, but only a moment to see it all disappear.
And here is why I’m afraid.
The facade of reality has been lifted for us and for all generations moving forward. When I was growing up, I used to hear adults say to kids that “all of your sins would be found out” and that “eventually your sins would become public” and while I don’t know if that is completely true, I understand the nature behind the comment. The reality is that I undoubtedly will have had an easier time “getting away” with stuff than my son will have. Life in a digital age is in your face twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year. And he will have to work a heck of a lot harder to come in after curfew than I did.
My point is this; we don’t trust reality anymore. Just because someone looks like they’re happy and that they love their kids and that they have a perfect marriage doesn’t mean much today. Our perceptions don’t hold much weight anymore because they are based on Facebook and surface level conversations instead of the deep authentic relationships that naturally expose the real you by default.
Maybe I’m afraid that if the people we look up to the most begin to fail us, the systems and constructs that depend on their perfection will follow in their failure.
But maybe there’s another way.
I have been extremely blessed when it comes to working at churches. I’ve heard horror stories about abusive church staff cultures and am grateful that I have been spared from those circumstances.
The first church I was on staff with, CrossPointe Church, was in Orlando, FL and was led by Pastor Chan Kilgore. I, personally, am indebted to him for the rest of my life for the way he pastored me as a young worship leader. The time I spent with him and the other staff members there was invaluable, and I seriously could not have asked for a better experience.
One of the fingerprints he left on my life as a worship pastor, husband and father was this phrase on parenting that had applications in all aspects of my life. He would say, “You don’t have to be a perfect father, just a repentant father."
That may sound too simple to be profound, but let me unpack for a moment what that phrase did to me.
It lifts the veil slowly instead of the veil being ripped off.
That statement assumes that we aren’t perfect. It begins with the idea that we will fail each other. That the reality of our lives is that we mess up. A lot! And not just once, we will mess up over and over and over again. The veil of perfection begins to be pushed aside so that we can look reality squarely in the face and embrace the messiness of broken people trying to live in relationship with one another.
Contrast that with someone living the seemingly perfect life and then in an instant it is all gone. The veil that was the perfect parent, perfect spouse, perfect friend has been violently removed and what is left is a trail of more pain and suffering.
What if we started out with this idea that we know we will have to apologize and ask for forgiveness from practically everyone around us, and instead of working towards building the perfect image, we built a working relationship that was surrounded with mercy and grace. What if apologized to our kids when we messed up instead of justifying our own prideful parenting techniques? What if we reengineered our relationships so that the expectations in the face of failure was more relationship, not less relationship? What if we stopped asking for perfection and started asking for reality?
I'm not advocating for personal responsibility to be replaced with some sort of reckless grace thrown around with no intentionality, but for a genuine authenticity that moved people closer together rather than further apart.
When I was really young, maybe seven or eight, my dad sat me and my siblings down and with tears in his eyes and authenticity on his face asked us for our forgiveness. I was too young to remember, but as he tells it, he was at a conference with about 30,000 other men and the speaker asked everyone to pluck a hair from their head and drop it on the ground. Silence. Then the speaker asked everyone to take a shoe off and drop it. Thunder.
The speaker’s point was that the actions of a father might seem, to him, like a hair is falling, but to the child, it is a shoe and is thunderous.
In that moment, my dad realized that he would sometimes clap loudly to get our attention. As a father of a two-year-old myself, I understand how easy and necessary that could be to get any child’s attention. There was never any negative intentions or ill will towards us, just a means of getting us to stop what we were doing and to focus on him.
As he tells it, though, there was a tinge of fear in our eyes when he would clap his hands. Whether it was the loud noise or something else, he said that in that moment at that conference he was fully aware that he needed to stop clapping his hands together to get our attention. In full and complete obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, my dad came to my siblings and I and sincerely apologized and told us that he would work very hard not to do that anymore.
That might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but it is a glimpse into what our relationships could be. What if the only pretense to our relationships were that we acknowledged failure before it happened and resolved to reconcile with God and with one another when failure happens? How amazing would it be if we didn’t have to anxiously await someone’s moral or social failures, but assumed that they would happen and already have the process of repentance and reconciliation in place?
I long for a day when my pride and ego will get out of the way and allow me to be this transparent and open about my failures and shortcomings. I hope for my family and my friends that we can live without the facade of perfection clouding what could be more robust relationships.