Words of Hope: Loveless Fathers

I spoke with Mom about the miracle of my dad’s transformation from aggressive agnostic to total faith. How do these things happen? After his mom died, Dad hated God and everyone who claimed faith. Then he had a life change to total devotion to Christ. Part of the struggle for Dad was his fear if he became a Christian, he would give up basketball to follow God. He thought that loving God required giving up everything else he loved. He pictured his life as joyless, dour, and obligatory obedience to appease God.  

“Mom,” I asked, “Why did Dad have such a dark view of God…this image that God demanded his inner joy and his love for good things?” I believe this came from a loveless father, and traumatic response. If our own earthly father is abusive and tyrannical, it is natural to carry this subconsciously into our relationship with God.  

I grieve the massive struggle people have viewing God through a lens of hope because their own upbringing was so hopeless. My husband Shann and I watched a powerful movie about familial dysfunction called Stories We Tell.  The director shines a light on the story of her life, the stories of lies and deception that permeate her upbringing. All the children in the family suffered greatly from the lies and secrets her family and extended others told. It seems the adults believed these lies were harmless, but through the film, we see the compounding trauma for the children. Lives based on lies that the parents have justified but the children bear out in suffering.  

The movie director found out later in her life that she was the product of an illicit affair. To me the most devastating aspect of the story is the fraught relationship between her and her biological father. She delivers the message of his idealized dreamworld with such crushing precision. He didn’t really love her, he loved the idea of her, he loved the story he could tell from his vantage point of power. Is it any wonder that this woman’s faith is atheist? A father who raised her, blind, foolish, lonely, and lonesome, empty of meaning. A father who conceived her, narcistic, imperialistic, loving her only as an extension of his own ego.  

It’s such a heartbreak to see children growing up not knowing a father’s love. Love that is real love—patient, kind, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not bitter or egotistic. Dad had to take the leap of faith to believe that God loved him, that God wasn’t going to take away his joy, but he was going to increase it. God wasn’t going to take away his basketball, He was going to multiply it beyond his imagination.  

Lord, have mercy on us parents and educators who stand in a place of authority for children that through our example impress upon these young lives unconscious feelings about love, truth, God, and goodness. 

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. –  Matthew 18:6