Linda Downing

Thinking about fathers

My father never asked me about my life. Wait — maybe he did. “Never” could be my own perception. Sunday will mark the 15th Father’s Day without him, so I’m remembering.

Some things we learn with age; they come slowly and painfully. One of them is that 15 years or even a lifetime is but a blink. Another is harder to grasp; but if not learned, it becomes the root of much suffering and bitterness. Our definitions of our “rights” and of “fairness” cause us to make unrealistic demands of not only our fathers but also our mothers and others we believe “owe” us simply because of kinship.

So, in order to survive and thrive, we must put on our big-boy or big-girl pants and face this plain but hard truth: We cannot give someone — even our spouses or children — what we do not have. If we cannot admit that about ourselves, how can we extend grace to our fathers?

We may have wrongly labeled this lack as self-centeredness, as unloving and uncaring. It is a challenge to differentiate motives in a culture marked by ignorance and flagrant defiance.

Take this example. Recently, security guards at Orlando’s federal courthouse prevented prospective jurors from entering because they were not in compliance with the dress code. Were the people in question ignorant of the rules or perhaps better candidates for the “What Not To Wear” show than appearances in court? Were they in flagrant defiance of standards or trying to get out of jury duty? Lawyers for the accused say the guards blocked their client’s Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy and public trial. It would seem more correct to blame the ill-clad jury prospects. Blame cannot always be pinpointed and is usually pointless anyway.

There is no constitutional amendment telling fathers what is expected of them. There are biblical and societal guidelines and laws. If “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13) and love “keeps no record of wrongs” (v. 5), if there is a time when children become adults who “put away childish things” (v. 11), then it is time for some of us to lay down our resentments.

An old Chinese proverb says that “in a broken nest there are few whole eggs.” The world is broken. Fathers are mostly far from perfect. A few are cruel, and some are no-show’s, not even helping to provide for their children’s basic needs. Those things we cannot honor on Father’s Day; but we can forgive, if not for them, to free ourselves.

In 2010 the University of Tampa opened a $20 million chapel for its students. Research indicates that, despite the elaborate facility, only about 1 percent of them have attended religious services on campus. The Pew Research Center has told us for years that there has been a change in religious commitment among Americans, especially among young people—a “shift away from religiosity toward spirituality.” Patrick Henry, a sociology professor, says that “traditional chapels are not getting it done.”

We might wish we had a “traditional” father, depending on our definition of that term. It may or may not have gotten the job done — to grow us up. At some point it is up to us. It didn’t cross my father’s mind to ask me about me; he couldn’t give me what he didn’t have. He was too busy telling me about him. I will cherish that; he was a magnificent storyteller.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at