The Problem with Fathers

I just read something by Fr. Richard Rohr about the sad fact that way too many people are not reconciled with their fathers.

Part of the reason many people find it hard to relate to God as “father,” he said, is because so many people have bad to non-existent relationships with their fathers.  Wrote Rohr: “Many people have had bad experiences with their fathers, and until that’s redeemed and freed, until they experience reconciliation with their fathers, or healing from the wounds of that father relationship, it is very hard, if not impossible, for such people to experience the loving, reconciling fatherhood of God.” (Richard Rohr,The Good News According to Luke, p. 61)

Rohr’s observation made me think about the problem with fathers. Although we in America hear a lot about African-American children not having fathers at home, being raised by single mothers, as I read and observe, it seems that many children, no matter their race or ethnicity, find themselves looking for a real father, a loving, consistent and powerful presence in their lives. It seems that well-to-do children have fathers who are away a lot for “business,” leaving them, effectively, to be raised by a single mother or worse, some caretaker or hired help. It seems that for many, a father in the home has meant seeing mothers being physically and emotionally abused, or the children themselves being physically, emotionally …and too often, sexually abused.  So often, we hear that “daddy was an alcoholic,” and because of that, life was hard and painful. Too often, the story is that “daddy” made promises he did not keep, causing little children to grow up into insecure adults, always wanting good things to happen to them but inherently doubting any promise of “good” for them to become reality. There has been no reconciliation with “daddy.” In many cases, there is a deep desire to pretend that the father didn’t exist. To expect better of a father who has treated, mistreated or ignored his children during their formative years is often too hard for the child, now grown up.

And God is presented, by and large, as a father.

If Rohr is correct, then it means that because so many people are not reconciled with their own fathers, they are not and worse, cannot, be reconciled to God, and to the “good news” that God offers.

I am stretching here, but perhaps the lack of good relationships with fathers is part of the reason America is filled with Christians who are not reconciled with God, and are therefore not reconciled with each other? Could racism and sexism and homophobia exist as entities if we were a nation reconciled with God? Could there be such a history of racial and gender discrimination, of great economic disparity, making an ever-widening chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” if we were a nation reconciled with God?  Wouldn’t a nation filled with people who are reconciled with God …look different, have different policies, be more characterized by great compassion and forgiveness than is America?

Is the part of the world which says it is Christian, likewise, reconciled with God? I do not know much about what is really going on in the Middle East, but something feels wrong. Yes, Israel has a right to exist, but doesn’t Palestine have that right, too? Are the Palestinian people (not Hamas or any political group, but the people) being treated like human beings who belong to and are precious to God?  People who are reconciled with God, I would presume, see with God’s eyes and see with God’s heart; the child takes on the personality of the father, right? Is the fact that so many of us cannot take on the personality of God mean that our lack of reconciliation with our own fathers is really running our lives and the way we live our lives?

Fr. Rohr quotes the prophet Malachi, who wrote that when children are not reconciled with their fathers, “the land is struck with a curse.” (Mal. 3:24) He says, “When the eldering system breaks down, the male is no longer able to trust or entrust himself to anybody and the female is no longer able to trust the male or entrust herself to the male. At that point, people have a distorted and restricted view of the nature of themselves, one another, and God…This is a sibling society, needing but rejecting all mentoring.” (p. 62)

Is there a “father problem” in America, and in the world? Are there far too many people with bleeding spirits because they did not have a good relationship with their fathers, and are therefore not reconciled with God? If that’s the case, does it matter?

I think so.

A candid observation…


The Boy Whose Father Never Came



There is an image I cannot get out of my mind.

It is that of a little boy, about 9 years old, sitting outside, waiting for his father.  This little boy was a part of a summer program, and the kids were going on a field trip; the boy’s father had promised he would chaperone.

At first, the little boy, who was no angel, was his normal, precocious self, bothering other kids, taxing teachers and denying any wrongdoing if a classmate accused him of some infraction.

But after a while, he slipped outside the school and sat on a rock, alone. I kept my eye on him; he sat there for some time, looking, straining, really, as he looked down the street.

Finally, I went to him and asked him why he was outside. Ignoring my question, he said, “Could I use your phone so I could call my father? He’s supposed to be here. He said he was going with us.”

I called his father’s number …but nobody answered. I told the little boy and he persisted. “Well, call my mother. She’ll be able to call him.” I followed directions and called his mother and gave him the phone. He asked, pleaded, for his mother to call his father, and I guess his mother said that his father wasn’t available.

Big tears welled up in his eyes…he hung his head, and said, before he hung up, “OK. I love you.”  I assume his mother said for him to be good…or some such.

There was a quiet moment, and then it was like I could see fire well up in his eyes, with a heat so hot it melted his capacity to feel. The teary eyes were now angry and hurt. This, I could see, had happened before, and not a few times. Part of the reason for his unruly behavior was now apparent to me.

Those who want to have children ought to wait until they are ready to have children before they bring new lives into the world. As I sat and watched that little boy, I thought of how angry children grow up to be angry adults; depressed children grow up to be angry adults. Kids who live with disappointment, persistent and regular disappointment, learn not to hope, not to dream, not to care.

Every child needs love and nurturing. Parents who promise their children anything …and then simply don’t do it…are messing with the lives of innocent souls. Children don’t know how to verbalize their disappointment; more often than not, when a parent is unavailable, either physically, emotionally, or both, are doing damage to little people who just don’t have the wherewithal to cope with what they are left feeling.

Contrast what a child who has love and support can and will do with one like the little boy I’ve described here.  Gabby Douglas, who wowed the world with her gymnastic skills, had not only a mother and family that loved and supported her, but had a surrogate family as well, who loved her.

Maybe…no, I am sure, this little boy has something significant that he’s supposed to share with the world as well; perhaps he was born to be yet another Olympics  hero…but I doubt we will ever know it, because disappointed, angry children get stuck, first in their own disappointment, and later in a justice system that is often not so just.

Too many children are born and dumped.  The men who produced the sperm that fertilized the egg that produced too many children make babies without even thinking about taking care of those babies, and the women who lie down with a man, any man, for sex that produces children are likewise, many of them, not interested in being a parent.

I sometimes wonder if pro-life advocates think about that. There is so much push to protect fetuses and not nearly enough attention paid to the children who are actually born…and dumped.

I don’t mean to be unusually harsh on the parents of these children. It’s likely that the parents are giving what they received, and withholding what they don’t even know exists. They parent as they do   because they never experienced love and support  and therefore,  they cannot conceive giving it…but that doesn’t make what they do fair to the children they produce.

Who knows what the little boy whose father never came has inside him? What gifts that might enhance this world will be  squandered and lost because this little boy feels detached and neglected and ignored by his father? Who knows that that’s the reason, or at least part of the reason, that there is so much crime, so many gangs? Little children grow into young people looking for ways to fill the gaps…and sometimes, that never happens.

I think I’ll follow-up with this little boy. I think I’ll try to show him that he is a child special to God, special to the world…and worthy of love. The fact that I cannot get him out of my mind must mean that my seeing him sit on that rock, alone and forlorn, looking for the father who never came, was not a mistake.

A candid observation …