Sometimes, on very rare occasions, I make a dumb move. Two days ago I purchased Donald Miller’s latest book Father Fiction only to find out tonight that it’s merely a republishing of his other book, To Own a Dragon, which I already have. And even though I feel a little stupid, it’s actually gotten me to think about my fatherless life and what I’ve learned from it all.
Don prefaces this book by talking about how much he hated going to the moments in his life that he didn’t want to go, talking about the things he didn’t want to talk about. He hated having to admit his lack of knowledge around women; how insecure he felt when attempting to date someone because he wasn’t sure what they would think of him. Practically everything he said he hated doing and why was something I can completely relate to. I frequently doubt myself and my ability to do anything; I frequently wonder if people talk to me because they feel bad for me or if they actually care; and I frequently dwell on the failures that I’ve made because I don’t really know how to forgive myself and move on.
Don is exactly right, though, in saying it feels like you’re on a self-pity party where all you talk about is how bad you’ve had it growing up. I hate it for two reasons: 1) it’s depressing and 2) it makes me think that I’m the only one suffering in this world, that I’m the only one who has ever had it bad. It encourages a sort of depressing sense of arrogance where instead of bragging about the things I’ve done and accomplishments I’ve made, I brag about all the painful things I’ve suffered and treat everyone else’s problems as not as bad as mine. It’s possible these things aren’t related to father issues, but in all likelihood, and as Don believes, they are.
What I’ve been thinking about tonight is what kind of father I’ll be like. I mean, I first have to overcome that whole perpetually-single thing, but I think somewhere down the road there’ll be a little Cushman running around. It’s made me wonder what I’ll do, how I’ll incorporate all of what I’ve learned from my various father figures and make my best effort into raising a child as a father should. I know I should probably wait until it becomes more likely that I’ll have a son or a daughter, but there are a couple things that I know are critical.
The first is that I don’t want my child to ever feel like they’re alone or have no one to turn to. I don’t have absolutely no one to turn to; there’s always a friend, a pastor or even a relative that I could turn to when things get a little rough. But sometimes I feel alone, especially when I was growing up. In my household, it was just me, my grandpa and my brother. Both of those men have been a sort of father figure at one point or another, but since I was never shown – not just instructed – that I could turn to them to ask a question or tell them how I felt, I figured they didn’t want to hear and I closed myself off. It gets real lonely when you’ve got a bunch of emotions running through you that you don’t know how to deal with. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent crying in my room just because I felt truly alone, truly uncared for.
The second thing I want to make sure to teach and show my child is the concept of forgiveness, both of others and of yourself. Mixed in with those nights spent in lonely tears was overwhelming guilt and depression. Those nights were scary. When you feel alone and guilty or worthless, you begin to conclude that you don’t matter anymore and the best option is to end it all. There have been nights where I’d sit for five, ten, fifteen minutes at a time with a pair of scissors in my hands thinking how hard I’d have to stab to break through my ribs and tear open my heart. The Bible says to love others like you would love yourself, but sometimes I find it easier to forgive others than to forgive myself. What I’ve always had a hard time understanding about forgiveness is that it is not a feeling you have, but a decision you make and commit to. You let the wrong action against go and move on with your life. But without someone there to tell you that it’s a decision, you begin to believe that it’s a feeling you must have. In all the times I’ve held something against myself, I don’t think I’ve ever had the feeling to forgive. I’ve just prayed for God’s forgiveness, hoped that He’d help me forgive myself, and then moved on.
And that’s the final thing I want to teach my children: who their real Father is. I want to make sure that they understand how imperfect I am. I want to make sure that they know I’m only a mere imitation (oftentimes a pathetic imitation) of the real Father’s character. I don’t always love the way I should; I don’t always forgive the way I should; and I’m not always as humble as I should be. They must know the difference between their true Father and me. They must know that loving God isn’t simply adding Him to your hobby list; it’s like jumping in a big large pool of love that nothing could ever make you get out of. They must know that it is not a religious routine that you just do; it’s a relationship that you live.
Of course, there are many other very important things I want to teach my kids, like how Star Trek ships work and the fundamentals of a good golf swing. But tonight I could only think through the main essentials; the ones that I didn’t always have growing up. And though it may sound like everything’s good now, it isn’t. I’m still very much an emotional wreck; it’s something that has to be worked out of me. Though I may be twenty two and moving into the “real world” of work and careers and “true” independence, I still desperately need a father’s guidance. That is probably the last thing I’ll teach my kids; that they’ll never not need a father. I just hope they turn to the Father.