You see it in every Father’s Day commercial or Hallmark card, images of dad playing catch with his son, embracing his daughter, scenes of a blissful and carefree love of a father. However, that is not everyone’s reality. For years, I lived the reality of a distant dad, and by God’s grace have gleaned wisdom through this process.
Dad's distance began with divorce
Dad divorced mom soon after I turned five years old. I remember a stern man who expected me to be thorough in my chores. As a young lad raking the leaves at our humble home was one of my assignments. Dad was quick to point out any missed leaves and slow to affirm the vast majority that found themselves wrapped warmly in mom’s old tattered blanket.
My brother Mitch and I did spend summers with Dad and his new wife Pat. He met Pat at a bar in Grand Rapids, MI. She was a pretty and patient lady from England, who was able to stand up to my father with grace, and sometimes not so much grace. Pat accepted us, and always made sure we were fed and cared for during our brief time together.
Dad took us fishing from a pier in Pensacola, FL. and to Six Flags in Dallas, TX. We always engaged in activities, but never engaged much in discussions. Busyness competed with our conversations. Dad seemed comfortable not showing much affection and buying us gifts to somewhat sooth his growing guilt.
Dad's distance never changed until I did
When Jesus Christ became a reality in my life at age 19, I learned that I was to forgive my dad as God, for Christ's sake, had forgiven him. It was freeing for me to release anger, resentment and self-pity. Now I was energized by God’s grace to love my dad to Jesus. Rita, Rebekah and I moved to Ft. Worth, Texas in 1982 to attend seminary, but with a bigger mission to know my earthly father with the leadership of my heavenly father. I decided it was time I pursued my distant dad.
I learned to love dad in God’s strength, not my own. As a result he relaxed and bean to open up about his fears, dreams, work and upbringing. Though he was an accomplished technical writer of operational manuals in the Aerospace industry, he would lament that he was only a hillbilly from Kentucky. Amazingly, he even attended church with us one Easter where I pastored a small congregation outside of Comanche, TX.
Dad's distance transformed to pursuit
Fifteen years after I graduated from Seminary Dad had his third heart attack. It was in his horizontal state of sickness that he looked vertically to the Lord. He called and invited me to visit him! The next three years I traveled once a month to Dallas for work and stayed in Garland, TX. with my Dad and Pat for a day. It was rich as we went deeper in our respect and understanding of each other. We discussed the Bible and prayed together.
Dad attended the Pastor’s Wednesday Bible study at the local church. He told me in the hospital that he believed in Jesus Christ as the Savior for his sins! In 2000 my father went to heaven. I wept tears of grief and tears of joy, because my distant dad was close to Christ and close to me. Here is just a sampling of the wisdom I learned from my Heavenly Father through this time:
1. Pray, pray, pray and get others to pray for you and your relationship with your father.
2. Pursue your father with grace and patience.
3. Do not take his remarks personally, because unbelievers act like unbelievers.
4. Find common ground like a grandchild, sports, investing, food, golf or chess.
5. See your father as your Heavenly Father sees him: with compassion, forgiveness, love.
© 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
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