Just Like Dad
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
Here is a picture of my 45-year best friend, Brian Holoway, with his grandsons. He is one of the best fathers and grandfathers I know. We both played in the NFL together, got married, and became fathers. We both wanted to be great dads, but we first needed healing in our own father stories. Both of us came from families that put high expectations on us. Especially our dads.
How about you?
Are you desperate to live up to someone else’s expectations or memory, even years or decades after that person has passed on?
Being the son of a military hero who died while saving civilian lives contributed to the pressure I felt to achieve throughout my whole life. My mom wasn’t able to let go of his memory, and there wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t say I reminded her of him. Her description of him shaped me profoundly. I wanted more than anything for him to be proud of me and the way that I lived. Being good wasn’t good enough—I had to be perfect! This made it almost impossible for me to rest because I had to get better every day in order to make myself worthy of his sacrifice.
When I made the team my rookie year in the NFL, my mom came to see me. “Son, did you know that your father Ed and your stepfather Dan had dreams to play professional football, and now you are fulfilling their dreams?” She meant well, but my mom was putting even more pressure on me—now I had to fulfill my dreams and the dreams of my two fathers!
In my story, my absent father was almost too good, while in other stories absent fathers are heartbreakingly bad. In either case, what’s missing is a father who is both present and loving. In his fascinating book Faith of the Fatherless, social scientist Paul Vitz writes that in his study of the world’s most influential atheists—including Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, John-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and H. G. Wells—all had one thing in common: they had defective relationships with their fathers. When Vitz studied the lives of influential theists—such as Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, Moses Mendelssohn, Søren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—he found that they enjoyed close and loving relationships with their fathers.
An absent father conditions a child’s heart to believe that he or she is alone and unloved. Absent fathers wound hearts, even as they give children broken pictures of what God the Father is like. Who could blame such a child for thinking, If God the Father is like my father, then I hope God the Father doesn’t exist.
When we have absent fathers, we are forced to make our own names. For some, that name is Influential Atheist. For others, like me, that name is Overachiever and Family Honor-Bearer. Fortunately, the Father has called me by a new name, into a clear destiny, with a peace that reminds me why I’m still here.
Father, thank-You for bringing me out of the prison of living up to the expectations of those around me. Thank-You for calling me Your own and reminding me each day that You love me and have a good plan for me and my family. Thank-You for all You’ve done and continue to do in my life as I press into my identity as Your Beloved. Lead me and guide me today as I take on new challenges as a parent and show me how to instill hope and love in the hearts of my kids. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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Published on September 24, 2020.