It is the man I am most like in so many ways: in facial appearance, in emotional make-up, in body build, in mannerisms, in genetics. And with this man, I had the most remarkable conversation last night. Of course, this is my father. But before I tell you about the conversation, let me give you a brief history.
Growing up, I never felt connected to my father for many different reasons. By the time I left for college at 18, I hated him and hoped that escaping to Duke University would be my ticket out of his life. It was another twenty years of sadness and depression before I realized I had to come to terms with my father. There were scary conversations where I expressed my anger and sadness over our lack of relationship. There was the long and arduous process of forgiveness. And then some years into all of this, I found myself feeling something so unexpected, compassion and even affection for this man. Now I call him most every day and try to see him weekly. I have learned so much from reconciling with my father, enough to fill a book, but here are a few of the main points:
1. All those years of hating my father were the very years I hated myself. And in rejecting his masculine identity, I ended up rejecting mine.
2. My sense of separation from my father coincided with my years of feeling disconnected to my heavenly Father, despite years of theological study. Opening the door horizontally to my father has opened the door vertically to the Lord.
3. No matter how wretched or sad our story with our fathers has been, to choose any other path than forgiveness is to choose to repeat their sins. That’s why Jesus insisted on forgiveness for his followers.
And now that remarkable conversation last night: he began to tell me about the church he grew up in, when Jesus became real to him, his feel for God’s existence, when he started reading the Bible. He shared story after story I had never heard, especially one where his father motioned him to go down the aisle as the preacher called for children to come forward to follow Jesus.
When we said good-bye after dinner, I hugged him tightly. He responded by tightening his grip on me. I could tell he didn’t want me to leave; neither did I.
When I left this time, it was no longer to escape his life. I was already looking forward to our next conversation.