Bryan Lilly

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Fatherhood and Father's Day

June 20, 2015

Father's Day

Father's Day has always been difficult for me. On this day, I am repeatedly reminded that I am a statistic, a political talking point, a bastard.

I've never met my father. He didn't pass when I was young, he didn't leave, there was no divorce. He's never been. And, to this end, I suppose that Father's day hasn't really been more difficult than other days such as my birthday or Christmas. The lack of celebration in June rings constant with the lack of hearing Happy Birthday, or Merry Christmas, or I love you.

I can't really say that my father was never present—in fact, his presence was real and it was oppressive. He was present in his absence, a heavy void and weighty silence.

There are many things that this experience has robbed me of, but chief among them is the ability to fully know God as my father. I'm 31 years old so I've had some time to reconcile the Fatherhood of God to some degree, but I can't help but feel that on my best days there's still so much untapped experience of God in my life by way of what should be such a comforting metaphor.

Secondly, I've been robbed of the chance to see what it means to be a good husband. I'm not unique in these things, and I don't want to seem like I'm trying to play the victim card, but there are real, deep existential problems that result from familial sins. Thanks to Scripture, and seeing other husbands within the community of my church, I think I'm doing ok. Yet, I'm building the concept of being a good husband a day at a time. And I suppose that's how any husband does it, but my goodness, friends and role models change. It would be nice to have a constant voice.

Thirdly, I have no idea what it looks like to be a father. Tomorrow will mark my first Father's day celebration in 31 years. I don't know what I'm doing. I have a ton of resources to reach out to—plenty of amazing men who are amazing fathers to ask my questions. What I don't have is a consistent voice. Other men have lives. I need presence.

Theologians have often described God by way of negation. I think some take it too far by saying it is the only way to know God, but it is certainly a valid way of understanding God. So, as questions continually pop up in my mind like, what does it mean to be a man? a husband? a father? my refelctions over the years brings me to this, I know God by way of negation, and in this, maybe my father has taught me this all along.

Being a man, a husband, and a father all begin with presence. The rest are all details, important details for sure, that flow out of being present. I must be present to my wife, present to my daughter, and present to my church.

Dear Audrey,

Hi monkey. This is your daddy. Your mom and I are so excited that you are finally here with us! You've only been with us for 3 and a half short weeks, but you have already brought so much joy and beauty into our lives! And you have also already taught us so much, particularly about God.

Our love for you has shown us more about God's love for us than we ever could have imagined without you. Your cries in the middle of the night have shown us that God is an attentive father who cares for our needs. You've shown us that our own cries in the middle of the night will not ultimately go unanswered, and that immediate fixes are just not always possible. But that doesn't mean God has abandoned us, but rather is present and working all things together to bring us our ultimate comfort and happiness.

I love you so much, and I am so thankful for you.

You should probably know this from the beginning, so that you don't have unrealistic expectations when you are older. I have no idea what I'm doing. There will be times when I say or do the wrong thing, or when I can't fix what's wrong. Many times, these will be innocent, but still hurtful. Other times, I will have sinned against you.

My heart breaks for those times, and I want you to know that I am desperately sorry for when I do sin against you. I am sorry that I will not always be the father that you need.

But more than that, my hope for you is that, like your mommy and daddy, you will find and be found by our true Father, who is the only person that will always be exactly what you need at all times. And, I pray that on my best days, my life paints a beautiful picture of what and who God is at all times for you.

I don't know if I will be here tomorrow. But I do know that if I am not, it will not be because I left you and your mom, but only because God saw fit sometime after this letter and before the sunrise to still my heart from beating.

By God's grace and by his will, and unless my story on earth is reaching it's final chapter, I will be here for you. I will be present.

God once told his son, You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well–pleased.[^1] I've found more comfort in these words the last few years than ever before, because I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.[^2]

What this means, monkey, is that whatever is true of Jesus is true of me in God's eyes. Just as he says to Jesus, you are my beloved Son, in whom I am well–pleased, so, too, I am one of his beloved sons. God is well–pleased with me through Jesus. Nothing can change that.

Audrey, you are my beloved daughter, and I am well–pleased with you. Nothing can change that. Nothing you do will ever change that. I love you, and there is nothing you can do or say that will make me feel anything less than love and pleasure in you.

I may not show you this as perfectly as God shows this to us, but I plead with you not to see God through my imperfections as if they are his. Don't fall into the same pattern I did.

Please, my lovely daughter, know God by way of negation in those moments.

I am not your perfect father, God is. But he has granted me the unbelievably amazing opportunity of being your father. And I'm staring with this promise:

By God's grace, I will always be here for you. I will be present with you always, for you are my beautiful daughter, whom I love. With you, I will always be pleased, and there is nothing you can do that will change that.

Love, Your daddy.

Footnotes

  • [1.] Matthew 3:17
  • [2.] Galatians 2:20