Fathers of daughters have an enormous responsibility.
Research indicates that the closer a father and daughter are to each other, the less likely she will be to develop premature, unhealthy relationships with men or boys.
I know that from experience.
There were only two times in my life when my father affirmed me.
The first is encapsulated in a small photograph. A snapshot of the two of us standing side by side. It is my graduation from teachers’ college. The only child of four to achieve this, he radiates pride.
The second time occurred in outback Australia, in the dusty, dry town of Roma, at two thirty one morning. He and mum had just finished a 2,500 kilometre bus journey. Dad staggered off the bus, put his arms around me and said, ‘How are you, my darling?’
That’s the first and last time he said anything remotely close to ‘I love you’.
He died six months later. When I was 32.
An abused catholic, he was furious when I became a Christian.
‘And didn’t I stand in front of the class with my arms wide open like little Jimmy Jesus on the cross and be whipped on my hands for not knowing my catechism?’
What could I say?
My choice of husband sent him into further paroxysm. ‘He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t swear. What are you marrying, a man or a mouse?’
I couldn’t tell him that I’d looked at his qualities, deliberately choosing a man who would be different. A man who loved the Lord as I did. A mate who would cherish me and not be afraid to tell me he loved me or hold me when I was hurting.
Before our children were born we analyzed how they would be raised. We determined that our children would know they were loved. They would know because we would read to them, sing and dance with them. Pray, worship and grieve with them. Together we would laugh, run, climb and splash. I would even host birthday parties and bake weird cakes. They would be positively affirmed, their gifts discovered and encouraged, despite the sacrifices. Every day would be an opportunity to teach them how wonderful it was to have Jesus as a friend. And when they chose a life partner, he or she would be welcomed with open arms. Most of all they would know because their mother or father would tell them, over and over again. ‘I love you.’
Of course the more I understood about Dad’s background, the more I was able to come to a place of uneasy forgiveness.
He was abandoned on a convent doorstep in Dublin. Bought up in an orphanage with draconian rules. When he was old enough, two women fostered him to work as free labour on their farm outside of school hours. He was a handsome, strapping lad who ran away to England at 15, falsified his age, joined the British army and was shipped off to Hong Kong for eight years. Not much of a foundation for building healthy attitudes to relationships and parenting.
We drove day and night to make it to his funeral. He looked healthier lying in his coffin that he’d looked for many years. It was a cruel jest. I expected him to wake up any minute and say, ‘Make us a cuppa tea.’ I wept on my brother’s broad chest. Wept for the opportunities lost. Wept with fear that in those last few minutes of consciousness he might not have turned to Christ for forgiveness.
Our 25 year old son bought this all home to me recently. My faithful dog, Sheebah, who puts up with so much neglect from me and loves me just the same, was lying next to me.
‘Good to know I have the unconditional love of my husband and my dog,’ I quipped
He grinned. ‘What about your kids? We love you unconditionally.’
I paused and thought about it.
‘I always knew you did when you were little. I just hadn’t thought about you feeling that way as an adult.’
‘That’s probably because of the relationship you had with your parents.’ A big smile breaks his face. The Irish genes run deep in him. ‘You’d have to do something pretty bad to stop us loving you unconditionally.’
I smile back.
Thank you, Lord. I needed that affirmation.
I know that one day, God willing, my sons will make wonderful fathers. A sweet incense of praise to their Father.
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