Dad, from the time he was a youngster, has coloured outside the lines. His thirst for knowledge, his curiosity, and his tenacity all contributed to those lines being more of a launching point than a boundary to keep one contained. As a 12 year old, he accepted the offer to drive an uncle’s car, passing his parents in their horse-drawn carriage on their way home. His pleading led to reluctant permission from his mom to allow him and his siblings to put up a Christmas tree, decorated with popcorn strings and tin foil strips, upstairs, away from their Dad’s view. Maybe it was this same audacious spirit that led to the selling of his lumber business and relocating his young family in, what was then, a remote part of northern Ontario.
Dad was born in St. Jacobs in the early thirties to an Old Order Mennonite family. His parents, Louisa and Ezra, named him Wayne. He was in the younger half of a family of ten siblings. Their family was very much impacted by the depression era and to this day in our family, “Ezra” is synonymous with frugalness. Dad says he never went hungry, but one gets the impression that love and affirmation may have been meted out in depression sized portions. He excelled in school and loved to read. They had no electricity in their home, and managing a lantern and a book in bed was rather precarious, so Dad built a night light out of a buggy battery, some wire, tin, and a flash light bulb. The toggle switch on the battery was the on/off switch for his light; Dad drilled a hole through his bed sideboard to access it because he put the battery under his bed. His father was none too pleased with that hole, but that didn’t stop Dad from carrying on with his contraband light system.
Baths, a Saturday evening only event, took place in a metal tub behind the kitchen cook stove. The water was heated on the stove and a sheet was hung for privacy. The girls bathed first then the boys – without changing the water in between baths. Dad was a tussle-haired, freckled-faced boy and those freckles were the bane of his youthful existence. He had heard that if you go out secretly at dawn and rub dew on your face then rub your arms with the same dew, you would transfer the freckles to your arms. He tried it. It didn’t work. Story has it that when Mom first took dad to her home, her Gramma (who lived with Mom’s family) asked the next morning in Pennsylvania Dutch, “What kind of rusty fella was here last night?”.
I think Dads can get a bum rap in the Christian faith as they are set up to be the sole mould into which we pour our image of God. We are wise to remember that our Dads too bring their own story, with its own brokenness, to their fathering. I have also heard it said that our childhood perceptions tend to be magnified, probably in much the same way that our childhood homes which seemed so big when we were little, are so small when we revisit them. Dads do have opportunity to represent God in humble service and love, but God is so much more than just that one metaphor. All that said, I know that our fathers can be an integral part of what shapes our perceptions of God.
As I reflect back to my childhood, I remember a home where I was cared for and safe. I remember a Dad who protected and provided for his family. During my adolescent and teen years, my innate leanings to also “colour outside the lines” frayed the edges of my relationship with Dad. Dad became more present to me in the role of wanting to keep me in the lines and I felt misunderstood and alone. Dad, I know, was only doing what he felt to be his fatherly duty and probably forgot that them apples don’t roll far from the tree. My story with Dad has not stopped there and we have had conversations that have involved forgiveness which have led the way to mutual respect and appreciation. While I still wrestle with feelings of being unnoticed that like to haunt and nag in the corners and recesses of my soul, I am able to place them more as past triggers than as current truth. My imagery of God will still occasionally default into a distant authoritarian, but as I sit with other metaphors of God as well as get to know both Dad and God better, that imagery is being reshaped into something fresh and life-giving.
My spiritual director has pointed out that, simply by being birthed out of the heart of God into a broken world, we incur soul wounds. If, in the context of a safe and loving home, I incurred a soul wound, how much more horrific would be the trauma and damage incurred at a core, heart level of a child who suffers outright abuse of any kind at the hands of their father. That seems to me to be one of the deepest betrayals of all. Could that have been part of the abandonment that Jesus felt when he cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?!”? Jesus, who normally referred to God in more intimate terms, doesn’t address God as “Father” in his cry. Might he have felt a betrayal from the Person he trusted the most? We know that the story didn’t end there, but did Jesus know that when he was battered and beaten and left to die?
I remember as a child coming downstairs in the morning and seeing Dad in his red, plaid lumberman jacket, kneeling by the living room couch as he started his day with his usual habit of reading and prayer. Arthritis is settling into those knees now and the sight in those eyes is dimming, but to this day he can accurately quote a random ditty or fill in any historical fact, and he remains a sharp shooter with a crokinole cue. His magnifying glass and bright lamp aid him in his continued love of learning and books. He has mellowed and seems to yearn for an intimacy that he himself didn’t know how to cultivate. The child, the girl child, is subtly invited to a role reversal where she can journey with the father into a place of shared story and a level of closeness that, even in aging and old age, can be rich and cherished.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.