I harbored and nurtured so much bitterness toward my father as I grew up that I preferred the term “the patriarch.” Justified by events of my childhood, I felt I earned the right to hold him in disdain. He netted a living as a lawyer, so naturally I tried and convicted him many times—in my mind. When describing him to friends, I used words like “loser” and “pathetic.” The one word that displeased me the most was “father.”
Sure, I knew Moses’s words from the Big 10: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exod. 20:21).
Impossible. Not going to happen.
If God knew my father, I reasoned, God would also know my father did not deserve honor. People earn honor and respect: they don’t collect it. The king of duct tape, my father had a knack for shabby. During his working years he tramped from one ill-conceived plan to another failed enterprise without consideration for my mother, my sisters, or me. I remember moving into my grandmother’s home after my father’s attempt to open a law practice failed. My grandmother, elderly at the time, had a hard time maintaining her home. Cockroaches and ants also lived with us, and I remember my father either not noticing or pretending not to see them. My mother suffered the most from his failures. Because of her suffering, I made sure my father paid by means of my disrespect. I cultivated and perfected a posture of disdain.
But of course, God knew my father. God understood him better than anyone. God also understood me. As a Christian, I could not profess the power of the Cross while maintaining a position of bitterness. And apparently God had a plan for helping me see this conflict. First, he helped me recognize my scorn as actual debilitating disappointment. Then, my heavenly father ministered to me. I had to begin with owning my sin. Because, in the words of ancient wisdom, “The one who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but the one who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13).
I had lived in my anger for so long I could not perceive my own self-deception. But once I confessed the pain of my shattered relationship, the Holy Spirit filled in the gaps where I felt hollow.
And something amazing happened. With fresh eyes, I truly saw my father. I witnessed a man who survived a spirit-crushed life. My father grew up in financial and emotional poverty. His father—the grandfather I never met—drank too much, probably hit his wife and definitely ignored his thirteen children. When I listened between the lines, I concluded my father had limited vision that kept him from seeing beyond a scarcity mindset.
Separate from a list of faults, I distinguished a man. And oh, my heart grieved. I grieved for my father, and I mourned for lost time exhausted in anger. Eventually, I rested in the Lord. And as the psalmist promises, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psa. 34:18).
My father died five years ago. But in his last years, Dad and I enjoyed a re-conceived connection. Turns out we liked the same restaurants, enjoying shared meals that neither of us had to cook or clean up after. If it was football season, we would congratulate or commiserate over spicy Mexican or Cajun cuisine. We even took a trip together to Branson, Missouri. My dad loved the shows, and I enjoyed watching him have giddy fun. I’m now a fan of those hokey musical reviews. Our re-imagined relationship centered on shared affections we created from new memories. What a beautiful restoration!
I can still feel the residue of old inflictions. But mostly, I experience peace and gratitude. I released my father from tired expectations and learned to accept and love him for the person he was. He did the same for me. Praise God that He is making all things new.