Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seize the Significance

I have many roles in my life (preacher, friend, son, brother, nemesis) but the ones I treasure most are my roles as husband and father. I am not exaggerating or being melodramatic when I say that I delight in being a dad to my two daughters. They, and Angela’s and my love, care, guidance and protection of them, are one of the great joys of my life.

It definitely helps that I have had a positive and strong relationship with my own father, and I realize this is a blessing not everyone has enjoyed. I am often pained by the lack of fulfillment people express in this regard. Maybe their dad wasn’t there for them, or didn’t seem to love them, or hurt them, or was indifferent towards them (and indifference is often more painful than hostility). Both men and women often carry wounds caused by painful relationships with their dads. I was inspired and touched by a recent essay by Rick Reilly, a sportswriter whose own Irish father was alcoholic and abusive (“Life of Reilly,”, 6/5/08).

Reilly’s father was an avid golfer, a mean drunk, and an absentee dad. “More than once, he asked me, ‘What grade are you in again?’, Reilly recalls. Because of the frequent beatings and tirades when his dad got home, Reilly acknowledges that to this day, “the sound of (golf) spikes on cement sends a shot of ice through me. That was him coming up the sidewalk.” The son eventually took up golf “at least partly to understand what was so wonderful about a game that would keep a man from coming to his (four) kids’ games and piano recitals and birthday parties.”

Then one day when Reilly was in his 20’s, his father went to an AA meeting and quit drinking. Completely. Five years later, the son invited his dad to attend the Masters golf tournament with him, and they had a heart-to-heart on the road. “He told me his life story, how he drank and fought to get the attention of his own distant father, how he’d kept from us that he’d been married before, and how sorry he was to have let his family grow up while he was holding down the 19th hole with his elbows. He apologized and cried. I forgave him and cried. I never dreamed I-20 could be that emotional.”

Reilly’s father then went home and apologized to his wife and his other three children. He let them express how much he had hurt them. He wrote the family a poem about his love for them and his shame at how he had lived. All this happened late in the dad’s life, after most of the damage had been done. But he admitted his failures and found a semblance of reconciliation, blessing his wife and children by the effort of doing so.

Friends, it’s never too late to ask forgiveness or to forgive, to admit mistakes, to make the phone call, to write the note, to offer the explanation, to express the pain. There are wonderful dads and rotten dads, good kids and rotten kids. But there are few father-child relationships that are insignificant. Seize the significance.

Reilly concludes, “As I looked at him (on his deathbed) I realized that for better or worse, he’d shaped me. I think I’m a good father borne of his rotten example. I’m a storyteller out of surviving him. I’m a man with more flaws than a 1986 Yugo, but I try to own up to them, because a very good Irish tenor showed me how. And that’s what I call a very good save.”

Fatherhood is powerful. Handle it with care.


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