ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JUNE 16, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Trinity Sunday/Father’s Day
Galatians 4: 4 – 7; Matthew 7: 7 – 11
A young father-to-be was pacing back and forth, wringing his hands in the hospital corridor while his wife was in labor. He was tied up in knots of fear and anxiety; beads of perspiration dripped from his brow revealing the depth of his distress. After many hours, a nurse popped out of a door and said, “Well, sir, you have a little girl.” The man went limp, smiled and said, “Oh, thank God its a girl. She’ll never have to go through the awful agony I’ve just gone through.” And that of course, is not why we celebrate Father’s Day.
We celebrate Father’s Day, because none of us would be here without a father. Moreover, we celebrate our fathers for the ways they have graced our lives with gifts like love, engagement, wisdom, playfulness, support and discipline.
There’s no question that fatherhood is taking a hard hit these days. The role of men in the family has changed drastically. At one time men were expected to be the provider and perhaps acknowledge their children, do some manly chores, and use their spare time to read the paper, golf or simply go to your nothing box. Now many men don’t know what’s expected of them. Fatherhood is an undefined boundary which can include keeping house, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, changing diapers, helping with homework, driving the kids to lessons, talking about feelings and bring home the bacon. It’s not that I, as a woman, feel sympathy for this. “Thank God it’s a girl, she’ll never have to do these things.” But I can see that it’s difficult when you’re wired to think about one thing at a time and half the time, you’re not sure what that one thing is.
On top of this, our culture is dismantling the traditional family, and men often take the hit there too. TV shows and commercials display dysfunctional families in which the fathers are stupid, crude and childish. At sporting events we often hear athletes who are being interviewed, or see people holding signs saying, “Hi Mom”. Chuck Colson’s prison ministry gives cards for the prisoners to send on Mother’s and Father’s Day. They always give out more cards for Mother’s Day than Father’s Day. In one California prison over a thousand prisoners asked for cards to send to their mothers. At the same prison, only 6 inmates asked for cards to send to their fathers. The difference is significant enough for me to wonder about the influence or lack thereof of father’s today.
In 2017, there were 1.64 million single parent families in Canada. Given our average family has 2.9 children, we’re talking about 4.75 million children. Out of those 70% live with their mothers, 15% with their fathers and 9% spent equal time living with both parents. The rest live with neither parent. That’s a lot of children! But does it matter? Since families now come in many variations, the question arises – apart from conception, is a father’s role valuable?
A study from Cornell University “Controlling for factors such as low income, children growing up in [father absent] households are at a greater risk (please note that; children with father’s in the home can also be at risk) for experiencing a variety of behavioural and educational problems, including extremes of hyperactivity and withdrawal; lack of attentiveness in the classroom; difficulty in deferring gratification; impaired academic achievement; school misbehaviour; absenteeism; dropping out; involvement in socially alienated peer groups, and the so-called teenage syndrome of behaviours that tend to hang together smoking, drinking, early and frequent sexual experience, and in the more extreme cases, drugs, suicide, vandalism, violence, and criminal acts.” Another study from “The Fatherhood Initiative” study in conjunction with the FBI claims “Father-deprivation is a more reliable predictor of criminal activity than race, environment or poverty. Father-deprived children make up 72% of all teenage murderers; 60% of rapists; 70% of kids incarcerated, 3 of 4 teen suicides; 80% of the adolescents in psychiatric hospitals and 90 % of runaways”. Girls are 5 times more likely to have consensual sex before age 16. Physical and sexual abuse rises rapidly in homes where the biological father is absent, due to extra strain on the mother and other men who have access to the children. That’s not to say that all children who were raised without a father present (for whatever reason) are all doomed; many of them and that includes many in our congregation, become loving, well-adapted people who do well in life and contribute to the well-being of society. And it’s not to say that children with their biological father in the home never do those things but the numbers drop by approximately 80%. Dads are important.
All of us know, no parent is perfect. As a mom, I’ve done lots of things I regret but my children grew up loved and protected; they had food and clothes and a warm, safe bed; they had boundaries and appropriate freedoms; they were treated with respect and tenderness; they learned right from wrong; they went to school and played; they have many good memories and a few bad ones, which had more to do with extended family than their immediate family. Fortunately, their good ones, outweigh their bad ones. That’s not the case with every child. Some children grow up in homes where they feel threatened by the people who are supposed to protect them. Some children are verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually abused. Some are treated like servants and some are neglected altogether. Some have alcoholic or drug addicted parents. Some parents have mental illness or anger management issues. Some parents have rigid and oppressive rules. Some have unrealistically high expectations. Some are absent due to work. Some prefer to enjoy life outside the commitments and responsibilities of home. Some are bad spouses and create an aura of pain and sadness in the home, which children don’t always understand. Some of you are thinking – “yep, that describes my father.” Or maybe your mother – or both; but since we’re talking primarily about fathers today, I’ll stick with that.
You may have spent years in therapy trying to heal from the hurts your father inflicted, or you may bury the wounds deep within your soul. You may struggle to forgive him. You may parent like your father and work hard to be different. Or you may blame your short comings on him. It’s his fault you’re damaged or less than you want to be. You may think your family would be better off without you. You may console yourself with the thought: I may not be a great Dad, but better than mine was. You may wonder: how can I be a good father, when he was my role model? You may feel hopeless and stuck.
No matter how despairing and overwhelming your childhood was, recovery is possible. We can’t wipe away an unwarranted and abusive past. We can’t erase the scars or the memories, but we can allow God to bring new life to us. The healing process starts when we experience love and acceptance. We need to go back to gain what we lost. Isn’t that what the good news is about? – God’s overwhelming love and acceptance. God is our heavenly Father. Every person is a child of God. In Christ, “God has fully adopted us as his own children” (Galatians 4: 5). Allow that to sink in a bit. If you were an abused child, there were likely times when you wondered if this person was your real father or if you had an actual, loving father somewhere else. You do. Or you may have dreamed of a day when a tender, loving Father would come to adopt you and bring you to live in a new family. He has. We are God’s children – fully loved by the Father who sent his Son to rescue us and bring us home. Perhaps it will take a while to believe your good fortune or to trust this new Father, but after a while we find freedom from the past and start to experience our rightful heritage (vs. 4). We begin to call this new Father, “Abba, Papa, Daddy” and he gathers us up, holds us, spends time with us, takes an interest in us, because we’re children in his household. And you know what? “If you’re a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance” (vs 7). Not only does our heavenly Father make us safe, he lifts us up. All that belongs to our heavenly Father is yours, beginning with his love – his constant, trustworthy love. Within God’s deep love is where our healing begins – little by little we can let go of the memories of the past and the impact they’ve had. We can emerge from under their weight and arise as a new creation.
As well as adopting us, our Heavenly Father gives us a new role model. He shows us what fatherhood looks like; what it’s about. In speaking about prayer – which is speaking with our Dad – Jesus encourages us to “Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in” (Matthew 7: 7 & 8). Your earthly father may have played head games with you. He may have held his power over you and made you plead for what you needed. He may have denied you or withheld his love from you. God does no such thing. In fact, even if your earthly father wasn’t such a bad guy- if he provided for your needs without manipulating you or creating fear in your heart, your heavenly Father, who loves you and adopted you as his own, will be even better. As we draw near to God, we see the image of what a true father is like and how he loves. Make God your role model for fatherhood. In being with God, noting his character and watching his methods, you can become the father you want to be – a strong and loving presence in your child’s life. And if your children are grown, it’s not too late. They need their father. That is a prayer God wants to answer.
One day a father was watching his young son play. A large rock was in his way. The young boy tried to pick it up, but it was too heavy. He tried to roll it but couldn’t. He even laid on his back and tried to push the rock with his legs, but that didn’t work either. The dad finally walked over to his son. The boy said, “Dad I tried everything, and I can’t get this rock to budge.” The father replied, “Son, you haven’t tried everything.” The boy said, “I did!. I tried to pick it up, I tried to roll it and I tried to push it, and nothing worked.” The dad bent down and lifted the rock and said, “ You see son, you didn’t try everything. You didn’t ask me to help you!” What about you, have you tried everything? Your father in heaven wants to help you be a great dad on earth.