My dad recently passed away, and I want to honor him in a way that is true. I don’t have any memories to share of heart-to-heart talks, or life lessons he taught me growing up. Or, of any great adventures we went on together, or of how he was always there for me through every rough time in my life. I wish I did, but that was not our story.
That word, “Dad,” is confusing for me, and always has been. I’ve used it in many different ways through the years to describe my situation:
‘My mom and dad divorced when I was two; I have no memory of us living together.’
‘I grew up without my dad.’
‘I spent some of my summers at my dad’s house.’
‘I never really got to know my dad.’
‘My stepdad was a Marine.’
But no matter how I use it, I still don’t have a clue what it means for me. When I was a kid these were standard sentences I would tell my friends when they inquired, but they were just words that I had learned in order to end the questions; there was no understanding or emotion tied to them.
My best friend Billy lived next door to me, and when I would go to his house we would wrestle with his dad. It was so much fun!, but I would leave there more confused about “Dad,” because it obviously had a different meaning to Billy than it did to me–a comfortable meaning. “Dad” to me was a story that seemed far off, and there was no way to bring it near. The story I knew was that I had one–but for whatever reason we were no longer together–and now I see him in the summer, and a step-dad the rest of the year.
While I was there in the summer, he would tell me “I love you” and so I would say “I love you” back. But those were just words too. I knew that “dad” was someone I was supposed to love, and I could say it just like he could, but how could I mean it? I didn’t even know him. More confusion, and no explanation. Maybe he tried to explain things and I was not in a place to hear it–I don’t know–my past and memories are a whirlwind.
I came to know God as Father in 2012, and I was soon able to release my dad from that role. There has been so much forgiveness and healing, but the scars that remained prevented me from forming any real bond with him, even in adulthood. He was a good and personable man, and if it weren’t for that confusing title of “dad” I know I would have loved him more completely as “brother.” I should’ve just called him “Jerry.”
At the time of dads passing, and many years prior, he was a completely different man than in those long-ago summers. His transformation came many years before mine. He became a Christian several years ago and then became a biker-preacher. Before he actually had a church building they held service in a biker bar. I went to one of them and sat on a pool table while listening to his sermon.
And the host said, “Well then, go out to the highways and hedges and bring in the complete strangers you find there, until my house is completely full. Luke 14:23
My exquisitely odd dad fell perfectly into the niche that God created for him. He went after the hearts of people who nobody else would or could. He loved exactly the same people who God loves; he went after the same people Jesus did/does–those outside of society’s norms–the broken, outcasts, loners, prodigals, outlaws, and sinners. He loved them all, and showed many the way home.
I don’t question that my dad was proud of me, and I know he loved me. I only remember two times when he said something hurtful to me, and I forgave him. He loved the people I love without question, and was always genuinely glad to see me. I have no doubt that he would’ve had my back in any situation up to the day he died. I don’t know if I ever told him I was proud of him, but I sense that he is reading this now. So dad, I am extremely proud of the man you became. At the end of my life, if I have shown love to one-fourth as many people as you did, then I will have really lived. I would be proud to follow your example, to walk with God as humbly and closely as you have over the last several years. You have my respect, honor, and love.
I now feel grace for both of our shortcomings, and while I do wish things would’ve been different, I don’t live in regret. I am weary of all the stuff I see on Facebook and other places to the effect of “You need to do this or say that today because the one you love may not be here tomorrow.” While it’s factually true, the assumption that you only get one chance, or one life, is complete bullshit to me. Not only will I see my dad in a while, but we will both be restored–there wont be any brokenness between us–and we can enjoy each other in a way that wasn’t possible on this earth. I eagerly look forward to that day.
I’ll see you then, dad.