For just twelve years you may remain his father.
From twelve to twenty, try to be his teacher.
Thereafter you may hope to die as his friend."
--A Mexican Villager
Somewhere I read of a young man that in a fit of rage killed his father. That night when everyone was asleep in the jail the jailer heard the boy sobbing: “I want my Father…I want my Father.”
Almost all parental relationships have a double edge: love and hate. We spend half our lives trying to find our own way, reject our family’s values and strike out on our own. Muttering all the way: “We’ll never be like him.” But somewhere during Middle Age a change occurs. Most of us spend the rest of our lives looking for our fathers. We dig through old photographs and letters. We search our family tree to see what made him tick. We call old relatives we scarcely know. What worried him? What were his dreams? What broke his heart? We long to ask our long dead Father some heart-felt questions.
Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are heavy-handed and make us feel suffocated. Some sit before the TV with a beer and cigarette in hand--present and yet almost always absent. Some fathers are mean and cruel—dead-beat dads that abandon those who need them most. Others are pious to the point of absurdity yet their children know better. But there is also that great number who pay their bills, stay and keep things safe and secure. They are good models for adulthood. They may never look like Ward Cleaver or Ozzie of the old TV family shows. But the children with these faithful fathers are blessed all their lives. We may hold up:”Hi Mom” signs at the ball games, but if you sit in a counseling room very long the word father always bubbles to the surface. Good or bad—father becomes the theme that flows through so much of our lives.
Despite it all blood runs deep. Some of us remember hunting and fishing and ball games and golf and walks in the woods. Others wish for a good relationship that never was. Yet all is not lost. On this Father’s Day maybe we ought to draw the circle of fatherhood larger. For out there everywhere are surrogate fathers that helped so many of us along. They taught us in Sunday school or Boy Scouts. They taught us to throw a football or stand up against the local bully and never tell a lie. These adopted fathers should never discount the work they do. Many of them by their quiet influence have kept some of us going. If you made your own list of substitute fathers that list might surprise you.
When my own daughter was little she would climb up into my lap as I sat reading the newspaper. She would push the newspaper aside, take both of her hands and place them on each side of my cheeks. She would turn my head to face her eyeball to eyeball. When she finally had my undivided attention she would say: “Look at me, Daddy. Look at me.” Maybe of all the things we want from our fathers and surrogate fathers boils down to simply this: to look at us, to know us, to listen to us—to be present and accounted for always.