“We were kids without fathers, so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves.”
It’s hard for me to remember a time before I had “man issues.”
The first male constant in your life is generally your father, and then grandfathers… So things can go sideways fast.
Those relationships are so powerful. They are your first experience of what a man is, and what he should be.
And then there’s our heavenly Father.
Our Father who art in heaven became very much conflated with my father who was in Western Ma. And then Virginia. And then Texas. And then Arizona. A Father farther and farther away, geographically and emotionally. A distant, detached, cold figure.
God was no longer Good.
I’ve been asked why I use the male pronoun and term father when it comes to God. It’s a fair question. I am a proud feminist. I don’t do it mindlessly or by rote. I’ve not bought into the patriarchy. It’s a wound I need healed, I suppose. I need a father who loves me unconditionally. I need that particular relationship.
In truth, I don’t believe God is male or female. I believe God is so much bigger than that.
I was twenty-one when I had my beautiful boy. I was single and terrified. I felt selfish for even having him, so certain was I that I would mess it up. That I would break him, somehow. How does someone so shattered mother a whole child? How does she keep him intact and safe? That God had entrusted me with this fragile, precious little human was further proof He either wasn’t paying attention or lacked good judgment.
Having children was an act of bravery for someone like me. Someone who saw danger around every corner. Someone who knew up close what evil looks like, and knew first hand the relentless pain of unhealed parent wounds. Someone who was guessing at what a healthy childhood might look like. I parented very fearfully, especially with my first-born. I trusted no one, not even myself. I was so afraid to do it wrong, and so of course, I did.
It’s probably no accident I was a single mom. I said it wasn’t what I wanted, but I wonder about that. I wonder if that didn’t seem like the safest option.
My son was seven when I got married. I had my daughter a year later. Getting married was the second bravest thing I’ve ever done. It was a spectacular leap of faith to entrust my heart to a man. Men were inherently dangerous. I knew that in my bones. They either actively hurt you, or left. Or both. But, I fell in love. Well, we did. My boy and I fell in love. That’s the thing- falling instead of walking. Closing your eyes and leaping, instead of keeping them wide open.
When my marriage imploded, when I learned what I learned, something in me died. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but upon learning the truth my first thought was, “Of course. Of course you did. You were always going to do this.” I was angrier at myself than I was at him. “You are such an idiot,” I told myself. I fell for it. I actually believed in the idea of a good man. And one who loved me. How stupid am I? How many men need to betray me, hurt me, give up on me before I get it? What’s the emotional learning curve here?
How many times does the central man in my life need to choose something, someone, somewhere other than me before I get it through my thick head?
It’s a little surprising, or perhaps it’s not, that it was during this time I began going back to church. I should note that I had little agency in this. My best friend kidnapped me and dragged my skinny ass there. I was drinking too much. I was starving myself. On a good night, I’d sleep about two hours- from 3:00 – 5:00. I’d get up every morning, make the kids a hot breakfast, put on my mask of makeup, put on a cute costume and go volunteer at the school.
Smile and wave.
And I was in pieces. So completely undone.
I was doing what so many of us do- trying to fix an inside thing with outside things. It has never worked once in the history of ever, but that didn’t stop me. I’m no quitter.
I’d not regularly attended church since early childhood with the exception of a brief stint in college- where I was trying it on for size. I grew up in the Catholic Church and much of what occurred in mass was over my head. And then I got mad. I broke up with God. And growing up in Massachusetts during the church sex scandal only reinforced all my anger and doubts.
This new church, though? They seemed to talk an awful lot about love. And they were super into Jesus, who I’d really been assiduously ignoring for decades. I was pissed at God, but could never quite manage to be pissed at Jesus. (and I KNOW, spare me the theology- I’ll split the hairs I want when I’m breaking up with deities.) I could shut my heart to God, but when people talked of Jesus I could almost hear the rusted hinges on that door give way. And Jesus is persistent. As Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “sometimes Jesus just hunts your ass down and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The year I got divorced, on Fathers’ Day, I lost my shit at church. Watching all the families sitting together while I sat alone was not great. There was some really beautiful talk about how we don’t all get the fathers we deserve, but at the end of the day, we are already loved perfectly. We can relax into that father relationship if we do not have another safe one. Then the worship leader sang a song that did me in. I fled to the bathroom, obviously.
It started to change the way I thought about fathers and God. I began to see the gift in the hand I’d been dealt. Maybe if your father is present and engaged and not great, that’s worse than GONE. In the absence of presence, I had the freedom to find fathering in other places- because father is as much a verb as mother. I forget that, sometimes. Maybe I found the fathering I needed, in the end.
Maybe given the hand I’d been dealt, God decided to shuffle the deck.
I’ve been fathered really well, actually. I had characters in books, movies and tv that I pretended were my dad. I’ve had uncles who loved me, friends’ dads who taught me things, delighted in my antics, SAW me. For a long time, I had a really wonderful father-in-law who I adored and who was unerringly good to me. I’ve lost a few of these men, recently- which has caused me to reflect on the gifts that they were in my life. And my relationship with God is good. We’re good, He and I.
Some people get an intact dad- everything in one person. Mine has been a piecemeal father. Maybe the lesson to take away from that is that no one person can be everything you need. It’s a lot of pressure, and people are imperfect. I got the very best bits from a bunch of places. On most days, I can see that for the blessing that it is.
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
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