The Unattainable Heights of Fatherhood

by Deacon Stephen Bowling

I must confess writing about the concept of fatherhood fills me with a bit of dread. As a father myself, and as a son as well, I cannot help but think of the concept in terms of flaws and imperfection.

The responsibility is so huge, the goal so important and the object of our efforts so precious, that I cannot help but feel inadequate. I recognize the great gifting I have received as a father – and pray I never take that gift for granted – but in many ways, this fact only reinforces my fears. It is like holding a delicate and fragile flower in your hands . . . you are scared to do anything for fear of making a mistake, especially if you have experienced some of those mistakes yourself.

As an adult child of a functional-yet-constant alcoholic father, I recognize my dread is inextricably linked to my own unique experience. As someone whose own father was both disengaged as well as flawed, and how that experience wounded me forever in many ways, I often feel outrage at my own experiences with fatherhood. Perhaps as a result of this, I recognize that I tend to obsess over my own shortcomings or missed opportunities with my own three beloved children.

I know that there are many people with similar experiences in their lives and histories, and that there always will be. I am certain that all of us in some ways have experienced the negative sides of humanity in at least some of those we know, if not love. However, it was a recent conversation with a friend that made me realize I was missing something very important . . .

My friend Deacon Walt Jones is the deacon at Holy Trinity Parish and, as he will tell you if you ask, an alcoholic himself who has been in recovery for over thirty years. In one of those Holy Spirit moments that cannot be explained, at a recent encounter with him, the subject of my father’s alcoholism and my resentment of its subsequent effects upon me as an adult somehow came up.

And that was when the Holy Spirit took over.

Walt proceeded to tell me the details of his own story – I knew them only slightly – and imparted to me words that I will never forget. He asked me if I could imagine what my life would have been like if my father had NOT been an alcoholic. I was tempted to answer yes, but caught myself as what Walt was trying to tell me slowly penetrated my brain.

He smiled and said, “The good man that you are now . . . the caring person who lives to be a good husband, good father and indeed a good deacon . . . don’t you think that the experience you had with your father helped to bring that person into existence? Not that you would ever go through it again, nor wish for anyone else to go through it, but it is ultimately God’s gift to you. A gift that makes you a far better person than you would have been without it. Would you be a deacon today who can empathize with those who suffer without all that behind you? Would you be serving God at all without this experience in your past? That is how I view my alcoholism and perhaps you might consider viewing your father’s in the same way.”

Walt’s words to me are some of the most important I have ever heard. They eased a pain I thought could never be healed and brought me a new perspective on fatherhood and God’s constant presence in our lives. Through his words I gained a new understanding that the mistakes we make as parents are not near as powerful as the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform them into something good, something holy and something better than we could ever imagine. And indeed I do think very differently today than I did before the Holy Spirit spoke to me that day with Deacon Walt’s voice.

Fatherhood to me is a joy . . . and if my less-than-ideal experience as a child benefits my own children and the people to whom I minister today to an infinitely positive degree . . . I can live with that.

God is indeed good and indeed good all the time.

 

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