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Family • 6 minutes to read
As we once again celebrate Father’s Day, I’m reminded of my father’s virtues and struggles, as well as my own. For many people, Father’s Day is a time of celebration—honoring the man who taught us so much about the world around us, ourselves, and life.
This is an important day for many families. While every family has value, strengths, and weaknesses, some families may also experience pain, wounding, regret, and sorrow.
My family is no different.
My father loved me. I have no doubt. I have fond memories of playing catch with him and many camping trips with the whole family or just Dad joining me with the Boy Scouts. Within his limits, he was there for me.
My dad had some strange behaviors and a quirky sense of humor. For example, he did all of his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve—he loved the hustle and bustle of last-minute shopping. And when it came to his sense of humor, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge his practical jokes. The day I turned four years old he said, “Son, now that you’re four, it’s time for you to learn your full name.” Then, without cracking a smile, he told me that my name was “Harry Oliver Christopher Toliver Nelson Baker Charles Everly O. Flanagan, II.” I believed him and memorized it that day. It wasn’t until the third grade, when I was signing up for little league, that I saw my birth certificate and discovered this was not my full name!
When I was growing up, I wanted to be like my dad—outgoing, a zest for life, with a quick smile. In fact, even into my college years, my friends came to my home to visit him, even if I wasn’t there! They might have liked him more than they liked me.
But there was another side to my dad. At 9-years-old, I found his stash of porn. This led the way to my addiction. But that’s not all. My sister was very strong willed, so I became the person in the family who always had to “adjust.” I felt like I was the “expendable one.” My father asked me not to voice my opinions or argue with my mother. He didn’t know how to have significant or difficult conversation with my mother, which modeled and taught me to hide and avoid conflict—and its consequences. This limited my ability to have deep and meaningful relationships.
All of this contributed to my secret life and a willingness to embrace my addictions.
AS A FATHER
So, jump through time with me several years. Now as a husband and young father, I avoided conflict and still retained my secret life of porn and sex addiction. This impacted my three boys. I taught them, as their father and pastor, what hypocrisy looked like. I loved them to pieces, but didn’t know how to love them in a healthy way.
I was struggling with my own destructive coping behaviors—my sin. My destructive coping damaged my relationship with each of my boys. They experienced a physically present father, but emotionally, I wasn’t there for them.
Recognizing this was a serious blow—like being hit in the head (and heart) with a two-by-four!
The sins of the fathers are passed down to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7).
This was a difficult revelation. I had damaged my own children. I didn’t mean to and it was not my intent, but it happened. This only intensified my shame and, ultimately, drove me even deeper into my addictive behaviors—”coping” with the pain was something I was very good at.
Today, my boys struggle with faith and believe the church is full of hypocrites like their own father. They tell me they love me, but there remains with each of them some emotional distance from me. Shame tells me I have failed. Guilt reminds me of all my poor choices.
As you can imagine, Father’s Day is not always something I look forward to. It’s easy for me to get entrapped with shame and guilt over what I have done to my sons. Sometimes, the day is met with silence because they didn’t reach out or call. Then there are those occasions when I have the opportunity to connect with them, which is such a blessing. Other times, it’s a day sprinkled with memories of my failures that replay over and over in my mind. It’s a mixed bag.
I love my sons, but continue to feel the overwhelming pain of what I have done—to them, my wife, and myself.
3 THOUGHTS FOR FATHER’S DAY
So, as fathers, how do we embrace this mixed bag day?
1. We must deal with ourselves.
We can’t go back and undo what has been done. We must accept the reality of our history. It’s what it is. But, given this, we can still embrace what the apostle Paul was saying:
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10 HCSB
So this Father’s Day, we can accept the reality of what we have done, but also accept the reality that we are forgiven—Christ chooses not only to use us, but chooses to be with us. We are not alone, despite what shame and guilt want us to believe. Even in our brokenness, He will never leave us or forsake us.
2. Acknowledge the sins of our fathers.
Not only do we need to accept ourselves where we’re at, but we need to accept the reality of our father’s life—with both its gifts and struggles.
My father did the best he knew how and this Father’s Day I can celebrate my dad. If you ever visit my office, you will see a picture of my father. He has a cherished place in my heart. I can celebrate that he loved me the best he knew how. I am blessed to have him as my father. He enriched my life and I am grateful for what he was able to give me.
3. Accept our kids where they’re at.
We also need to accept our kids where they’re at. The key is to accept them where they are at, instead of where we want them to be.
Like myself and my father, my boys each have strengths and weaknesses. They love me the best they know how. As adult men, my boys are each so unique and worth getting to know. I’m so grateful for them.
This Father’s Day, I choose to celebrate my sons—who they are and the journey they are on. I trust that God will reveal His grace and mercy to them just as He has done for me!
This Father’s Day, I challenge you to experience acceptance: for your father, for your kids, and for yourself. God is good. He will guide and lead us into His truth where we will discover we are accepted, loved, and forgiven!
On this mixed bag day, I wish each of you a blessed Father’s Day. May you experience God’s grace in a new and powerful way.