Father’s Day is here again, and while many are buying their dads bad ties, funny socks, or new fishing poles, there are many of us who spend father’s day nursing the wounds of what could have been.
My dad left our family when I was little. The day is still seared in my mind.
It was Christmastime. When my piano lessons were over, he wasn’t there to pick me up. The piano teacher called my mom at work. Back in the day before cell phones, there was no way to reach him if he were on the road. So, I waited for one of them to come and get me. As I walked to get into the car with my mom, the piano teacher was playing “Linus and Lucy” from Peanuts. To this day, that song triggers a panic attack.
We got home and discovered dad and all of his stuff were gone. He had loaded up his car and left. He would never come back.
In the days and weeks after he left, I heard the same Christian platitudes over and over again.
“God is your father.”
God is your father, as if that somehow made it better. God is your father, as if that somehow was supposed to mend the gaping wound. God is your father, as if that somehow was supposed to fix everything.
That’s why, if you’re a woman with father wounds coming into Father’s day, I’m not going to tell you that God is your father. Because it doesn’t help.
I know that and I get that. People thought it would help. They thought is was a good response to the grief and loss, but it wasn’t. They thought getting rid of everything that reminded me of my dad would help. It didn’t.
They didn’t know the abuse that happened before. They didn’t know the trauma of being abandoned.
And they didn’t know how saying God was my father would forever complicate how I view and relate to God.
If God was my father, I was in big trouble.
Years later, so much makes sense. I understand more about attachment, abuse, and abandonment. I know so much more about trauma and the body’s response to it. I have learned to allow space for grief and loss.
As I watch my husband play with our daughters, I fight back bittersweet jealousy- grateful that they will grow up knowing his love, and jealous of it all the same.
We can become fatherless or father wounded for a variety of reasons. Some never knew their fathers. Others have fathers who left. Some fathers have passed away. Others are still present but are toxic, emotionally distant, abusive. And when the template you have for “father” is skewed, damaged, bent, or broken, trying to cram God Almighty into it is not a great plan. Even if your earthly father was great, treating God as some replacement doesn’t help heal.
That little girl years ago didn’t need platitudes. She didn’t need to hear “God is your father” on repeat. It isn’t some mantra you have to repeat to believe. Fatherhood as a role was completely destroyed.
God as a father was not a good thing.
If I could go back and talk to her. To the little freckle-faced second grader weeping uncontrollably into her pillow, this is what I would say.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. The first thing you need to know is that this is not your fault. Yes, it hurts and you think that must be because you deserve it, but you don’t. You did nothing to deserve this. What happened to you is wrong. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s ok to cry about it. It hurts.
It hurts because it’s broken.
I know this time is confusing. You don’t know who to trust and you don’t feel safe. You wonder who is going to leave next and you’re so afraid of someone else hurting you.
Some people don’t get it. They don’t get it because it’s your heart that hurts. If you fell off a swing and broke your arm, they’d understand. But this is hard for them to understand just like it’s hard for you to understand.
No matter how much your father hurt you, there’s a part of you that misses him and wishes he could be a good, present dad. And perhaps some day he will. But maybe he never will. He may never come back.
And sweet one, it may never make sense, and it’s never going to be the same, because it’s broken. When we break bones, they heal, but they’re never the same. This is like that.
You are never going to be the same. It may take you a while to believe that people do still love you. Not everybody wants to hurt you. It may take you a while to remember that you didn’t deserve this.
Years from now, you might find yourself on a journey of trying to replace your father. You might be tempted to find men just like him, who make you feel just like he did. But, sweet girl, you deserve more. You deserve better.
I know the pain feels unbearable right now, like you’ll never be able to escape it. And every father’s day, you’ll feel it. Every time you see your friends and their dads, you’ll feel it.
As you stand at the end of the aisle on your wedding day, you’ll feel it. When you hold your first child, you’ll feel it. The scar. The void.
If you aren’t careful, you’ll run down dark paths to fill it, to numb the pain.
Some people may tell you that God is your father now. Someone might even write a worship song about God being a good father.
They’re trying to help. They want you to feel better. They don’t want you to be sad. But I know it isn’t the same. In fact, I know it can make things scary. If your dad can hurt you so much, then God can hurt you even worse, right?
That’s why I want to tell you that God is not your father. He is nothing like your father.
It’s going to take you time to understand that. It’s going to take you time to see that God is everything you hoped your father could be, and more. He’s better than your father, but God can never replace your father. Nobody can. But He can be what your father could not.
He can be your protector. Your provider. Your comforter.
He will be there for you no matter what. He will never leave you or forsake you. He will not abandon you.
He will never be your father.
And that may not feel helpful right now. That’s because everything hurts. That’s ok.
He can heal what has been broken.
And it may take time for you to feel ready to heal and to forgive. That’s ok.
He’ll be waiting, patiently and lovingly. You are His daughter, dear one, but He is nothing like your father.
It’s been nearly 30 years since my dad left (I suddenly feel very old). I’ve known God longer than I knew my dad and I still don’t approach God as “father.” Fatherhood is broken. It is damaged for me. But I will say that watching my husband become a father to our daughters has been tremendously healing.
If I’m honest, I think it’s one of my favorite moments from each of my daughter’s births- watching my husband get to “meet” them for the first time. Still, there is a part of me that will always struggle to see fatherhood as safe.
If you are a woman suffering from father wounds, I want you to know you are seen as we go into this Father’s Day weekend. You are loved and beloved and yes, God is fantastic healer. But God’s love for you does not erase the pain you have known. Grieve as needed. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.