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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day, Undeserved

If I could have been around during the time of the ancient Egyptians, I might have begged them to create a 364 day year, rather than a 365.  In my view, for me anyway, Father’s Day can skip right on by, unnoticed.  I do not deserve it in the least.

Before any of my readers boot up some comments that vehemently disagree with the above statement, let me explain.  By the end of this post, you will agree with my premise and run me out of town with pitchforks.  I thank God, every day, that my wife and children have not done just that.

Two weeks before I married my bride, we discovered that we were pregnant.  I have watched hundreds of movies, read thousands of books, and possibly have watched millions of commercials that portray the moment of discovery of life in the womb.  One thread that I have noticed is that, if the mother and father of the impending child are in a loving relationship, news of the baby in the womb is a moment of joy.  Tears of happiness are frequently reported as being the norm.  The glow of the unequaled uniqueness of the new beginnings of human life between a couple is unparalleled.

At that point in my life, that was most definitely not my reaction.  What happened next has been etched in my brain as being descriptive of how I saw my children then and how I mostly view them now.  I wrapped my arms around my bride-to-be and sighed heavily, saying, “Well, guess we need to start saving.”

That elicited a cool response from her that I did not understand at the time.  We had excellent communication – meaning we argued very well and very loudly – and I learned quickly that I was much different than her.  She loved children.  I did not.

I grew up in a Bill Gothard household.  No, not a Christian home, but rather, a Bill Gothard home.  Every little word and thought that came from his mouth and materials and those that followed him, became scripture in our minds.  One foundational “theological” idea that became a part of me was that children were a blessing from God.  While I do not disagree with that statement, the way that we were taught that God required us to practice that thought is what has destroyed my relationship with my children now, and what I will be fighting against for the rest of my fatherhood – hoping one day to crawl into the sunshine of loving and enjoying every moment I am given with my six beautiful offspring.

We were taught that God opened and closed the womb.  This meant that birth control of any form was wrong.  All married couples were required to have a large family as a badge of holiness.  A man, having his quiver full of these blobs of flesh, was akin to being an apostle of Jesus Christ, given the tongues of fire at Pentecost, enabling him to sit in the gates of the city and wield his power, wisdom, and influence on those less capable than he.

It was impressed on us that finances were of no consequence.  In fact, to worry about proportionate amounts of money to children was sin of the gravest kind.  You were to squirts out these lumps of flesh every nine or so months and God would magically provide all your resources, leaving you happy and unworried, all the days of your life.

Intimate love between husband and wife was secondary at best and usually or always dead last to nonexistent.  A husband never had the chance to get to know his wife without the responsibilities of another human being at stake.  There were always babies to take care of and kids to deal with.

This, as well as many other “principles”, was supposed to embody true happiness.

So we lived it.  We had our first daughter seven months after we were married.  We had financial troubles and fought.  We had our second daughter the next year.  We had financial troubles and fought.  We had our first son the next year.  We had financial troubles and fought.  My wife miscarried a year later.  I shrugged my shoulders in relief and could not relate to her grief.  We had financial troubles and fought.  We had another daughter and another son.  We had financial troubles and fought.  Then our lives turned from stressful to absolutely unbearable, financially, emotionally, physically, and any other aspect you can put your finger on.  During that time, my wife became pregnant with our sixth and final child – a daughter.

She, being completely and utterly overwhelmed with the responsibilities of her quiver full life, wept.

 I woke up.

Why was my wife crying when she had told me that she wanted a large family?  Why was I indifferent to every single child that entered our lives?  Why did we agree on a perfect number of twenty-nine children and then grief strikes when we discovered that we were coming up on six?

At every birth in the hospital delivery room, I was very good at being the man my wife needed during the delivery.  But, every time the child came forth, I would internally rip myself to shreds with iron hooks and a machete, knowing full well that my heart was cold.  I had absolutely no love for that lump of flesh.  None.  It was just another check mark in my own personal quiver.  I hated myself with new vigor with each addition to our family.  I felt I was heartless and unloving.  I saw that my children were being loved by their mother and “put up with” by their father.  A good recipe for them to hate me in the end.

I was taught that children were a badge of glory for me.  I wasn’t taught how to love them.  I was taught that my children needed to be spanked for every thought, word, and deed that I disagreed with.  I wasn’t taught how to give them a hug and learn to laugh at how their mind worked and the small joys of growing up.  I was taught that a baby needed to think like an adult and have its will under complete control toward its superior.  I wasn’t taught how to cry with them when they were teething, weep with them when they had a high fever, wince with them when they got a shot, almost die with them when they contracted whooping cough from other stupid non-immunizing families, laugh with them when they wanted to be giggly during a meal prayer, feed them when they were hungry, load them up with sugar just because sugar was delicious.  I was taught many things.  And I turned out a failure of a father.

I have learned to hate my children.  They don’t clean when I want them to.  They don’t go to bed when told.  They ride in the street on their bikes when they know it’s forbidden.  They unroll toilet paper until it is down to the cardboard roll and then put it in a bucket which they fill with water and then dump down the toilet, which plugs the toilet, water spilling all over the floor.  They draw on my walls with everything from pencils to permanent markers to charcoal briquettes.  They leave pockets full of crayons in their pants which colors a load pretty well in the heat of a dryer.  They spill their milk.  They wet their diapers.  They throw up.  They drool.  They don’t clean.  Did I mention they don’t clean?

In other words, they are children.  Kids.  Little people.  Not grown up.  Not adults.  Not as mature as I am.  Learning.  Loving life.  Loving to touch things that need to be touched to experience the experiential.  Needing to taste everything.  Needing to try everything once to see if it is something that should be tried again.  Making mistakes.  Doing things right.  Desiring the love of their daddy.  Getting the love of their mommy.  Wondering why their daddy is always yelling at them.  Seeing that their daddy’s love is conditional, proportional to the cleanly state of the house.  Crying inside, wishing their daddy would love them.  Crying openly in a dark hallway, begging for a perfect daddy when the stupid, imperfect daddy yells at them that he wants perfect kids.

My wife and I rectified the “problem” of birthing too many children than we could handle about six months ago.  It finally opened my eyes to the fact that the six I had was all that I was ever going to have.  I realized I didn’t want to mess it up.  So I purposed that I was going to turn a new leaf.  I still purpose that every week or so, consistently moving one step forward and two steps backward.

I watch in disbelief as my wife’s love for my children grows deeper by the day.  She LOVES them, faults and all.  I WANT to love them despite what I deem are faults.  More than likely, what I see as faults are just curious little people running around, loving life and desiring to be loved.

I hate myself, as defined by fatherhood.  I do not deserve to be a daddy to my kids.  They deserve something much better than me.  They deserve love.  They deserve a dad who wants to play catch with them on the lawn when it needs to be mowed.  They deserve a daddy that will spill his cup of milk when they spill theirs, just to get a laugh and let them know that it’s okay.  They deserve much more than me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I play with my kids here and there.  We wrestle.  I’m a fun daddy.  They love me with all of my faults.  They show me what true and unconditional love is, on a minute by minute basis.  But I cannot buy that type of love forever.  They will soon grow up and need more.  They will need what I desire to have on the outside, actually on the outside, rather than just a pipe dream theory that I am working on.

As you can see, I am in the beginning stages of healing.  Bill Gothard taught me to see children as a reflection of myself.  He never taught me who children really were.  They are not objects to be formed and molded in my hands.  They are there as human beings, a beautiful creation of a mixture of my wife and I, desiring to be infused with love, knowledge, hope, courage, wisdom and happiness.  If any one person in this family needs to be malleable, it is me.  And I am ready and willing.

I am very slowly learning to love my children.  In ten years, they will look back and see two entirely different daddies.  The hateful, despicable, selfish, haughty, loud one, and then the one that mattered.

One day, I will celebrate Father’s Day with joy in my heart – knowing without a shadow of a doubt that that day was well deserved.  I will know that by the vibrancy in my children’s souls.  But most importantly, I will know it by the dozen eggs cracked and spilling their yellow liquid all over the kitchen floor, which I just skated through in my socks, to the squealing laughter of my beautiful children.

37 comments:

  1. "They deserve a dad who wants to play catch with them on the lawn when it needs to be mowed."

    Well said!

    Don't be too hard on yourself, brother; you're not the only one learning from your mistakes. Not in a condescending way either, but in a brotherly, bearing-the-Billy-bull****-blunders right along with ya way.

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  2. Replies
    1. Growing up with my father in the home he never knew how to love us. But what matters is that he tried. Now he is going through what you are. Almost word for word. I'm 26. Married. I have a new daughter. Thank God for second chances.

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  3. Oh I feel for you!

    I am one who is afraid of that because of how I was raised. And of how I was taught to baby-sit my younger siblings...

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  4. Thanks, Jon. One thing for you to remember: You knew the truth before you had children. You have a serious head start on me. I think with that fact alone, you'll do just fine.

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  5. A lot of this echos here as well in the sense of unworthiness and bearing with my children instead of enjoying their child-ness. Hope you has a memorable Father's Day, by the way.

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  6. I am so sorry for you! How HARD! But then, you are realizing this NOW, and there is still time. You have seen that there is a problem and you desperately can fix it. That says a LOT.

    My father had twice as many children as you, and he doesn't know how to relate to them. He wrestles with them but doesn't KNOW them, not really. But he doesn't see that there is a problem. I, as his eldest, see the problem, but he doesn't.

    Unlike you, I'm one who realized what was wrong with all this before having children, or rather, shortly after having a child. And I am SO thankful. Speaking out like this may help warn others so that they can change earlier.

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  7. Thanks, Ted Sands. I think I know you, by the way. Anyway, I did have a good father's day.

    My in-laws came up. Then my brother-in-law showed up with his common law, live-in wife, her mother, and a little adorable baby boy. They were very pleasant to have around because I purposed that I would make it so. It helped that the mom was so good at being everywhere at once, pitching in. I could hire her for ten years and never have to get out of bed.

    Then, my mother-in-law forgot to lock her car and the whole block called the cops around noon after discovering that their cars had been rifled through. Would you believe the only one who had anything stolen was my mother-in-law? Hehe. We spent a few hours looking for a scam investment guru DVD set that the guys probably threw in the river. It's as worthless as the material it pretends to put forth.

    Had a picnic with my century old grandfather-in-law and decided to play with my kids the whole time. In my entire life of being a daddy, I have NEVER played with my kids, just to play with my kids.

    My wife had to drag me away. We had so much fun.

    Writing that post was the best therapy I could ever ask for. It's not going to be fixed all in one day, but I now have my internals on paper and can reference them when the going gets tough.

    Did I mention I love my kids?

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  8. Liberty, thank you for your kind words.

    I just couldn't sleep last night so I crawled out of bed and jammed this onto my blog by 4AM. I didn't realize, until later, that I had actually described a seemingly common issue amongst those that have been raised in this movement - the inability to love children for who they are.

    I must say that I have had some very incredibly slow improvements in the last six months, but I desire the hammer to come down. I firmly believe that post will be the beginning.

    I had a wonderful father's day and discovered some new things about my children.

    Thanks for reading!

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  9. I like your honesty. At least you are not afraid to say that parenting is hard work. But, don't say that you're a bad dad. Bad dad's don't care about anything, and obviously you care. Otherwise, you wouldn't be so honest with how you feel.

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  10. hmmm, I love my kids too! they are amazing....

    Thanks I loved this...

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  11. Thanks Violet and im4everHis. I really appreciate you reading and your thoughts, as well.

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  12. You are on the right road.

    No once can ask (legitimately) for any more than that.

    The right road is the right road, whether you are at the beginning of it, or nearer the end.

    Happy belated Father's Day. Even if you feel you don't deserve it, it's good for reflection from time to time. Don't you think?

    I know I benefitted from your reflection.

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  13. Thanks, Mara Reid. Means a whole heck of a lot, coming from you.

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  14. Hey IC, honest, raw reality is refreshing. I'm reading a book called Veneer right now and it talks about how their is such beauty in acknowledging and working through our imperfections. Parenting is rough and realizing that our kids need to learn everything from us is such an ongoing task to pursue. May you never give up trying to be a good dad. Acknowledgment is a huge step in the right direction. I'm proud of you for seeing what so many fathers do not.

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  15. Dude.

    Imagine feeling that way as a mother?

    I am SO glad that you and I, similar background crap in lots of ways, bailed a funky system before our kids got very old.

    The fact that we can look back and say "that was all b.s., ALL of it, and I am not going to let it define me or my family" is 99.99% of the recovery process. God can change our hearts and minds from there, because we are finally living in agreement with Him.

    Your kids will read this one day and go "huh?"

    Because it will not be the Daddy they know and love.

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    Replies
    1. Yep. I'm struggling with this as a mom. The guilt is immense. I'm hopeful therapy will help.

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  16. Glad you stopped by Jill. I agree with you. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  17. I grew up a preacher's kid and felt the same pressure to be an extension/reflection of my dad. He passed on Gothardism in name, because it struck him as too legalistic, but in principle most of those ideas lived in our house. I hated--hated, didn't care if I was going to hell for it HATED--my dad growing up. I prayed that my mom would wise up and divorce him or that he'd get hit by a car or something. I ignored him as much as possible and tried to forget his existence after I left home. Ten years later, I lived with him for a year after my mom died and it did nothing to improve our relationship, I still thought I could happily go the rest of my life without him in it. (At least I was no longer praying for his death.)

    I got married and had a couple kids who I thought deserved a grandparent (since they didn't have any others) so I let my dad visit--from across the country. I began to sorta kinda maybe halfway no not even that much respect him as my kids' grandfather because he was way more interested in them as people than he ever had been with me. So we danced around each other for another ten years.

    But the last four or five years have been pretty transformative years for both of us--each in our own way has become aware of the damage of fundamentalist thinking and how we have continued to preach fundamentalism both in and out of the church. Finally we are able to meet on common ground, respecting not where we've each ended up so much as the work of the journeys to get there. I am now one of his biggest fans and he mine.

    My point in this long story is that it is never too late to cherish each other and something good will always come of it. And you are miles ahead of my dad in figuring out some of this bullshit. My dad fought introspection with a vengeance for as long as I've known him, only in the last 15 years even starting to take a long hard look at himself. You obviously have no problem with weighing yourself against your own measuring stick--and that goes a long way toward spiritual growth and learning to love yourself and your family.

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  18. Sandra. I can't thank you enough. What an encouragement! Thank you X 1,000,000,000!

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  19. I found your blog over at Lewis's Commandments of Men, and this post is all about what I have been struggling so much with lately, except, as a mom. Emotions are something I was never allowed to have growing up, especially anger. So now, 10 years of marriage and 2 kids later, I still don't know how to properly be angry! I struggle with loving my kids, I struggle with accepting them for who they are and not expecting them to be perfect little adults, I struggle with explosions of anger, I struggle with wanting to ignore them, I struggle with not being emotionally present, blah blah blah. It's good to know there are others out there who are honest enough to admit that they also struggle with this, so I don't quite feel like a freak of nature, all by myself. Prayers to all of you who are working through this crap.

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  20. Christy, thank you. I appreciate the encouragement. Also, check back often and let me know of new experiences and ideas to improve. I love learning from real people rather than fake experts.

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  21. this post pretty much has me crying.. wow how God leads us even to just the blogs that we need to read..

    my heart is healing after growing up in a church like that.. how it was all just having more kids having more kids.. and to think that all we were as women were to grow up and have kids.. that was our role.. to clean floors and cook and clean some more.. to submit submit submit.. and it killed me inside.

    Jesus is freedom. He is joy. Thank you for posting this! My heart is so overwhelmed how God is at work and showing true freedom in Him.. the patriarchal mindset breaks my heart.. I know so many that are trapped and filled with hurting hearts.

    I want to grow up... love my children... but show them that He is what matters.. that there are joys in life.. that they are real people that are LOVED by God..

    Praying for you and your family as you are healing and working through so much... may God bless you and thank you for being honest. It is helping far more than those who are brave enough to comment.

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  22. Thanks, Jessica. It is still a process. We just got back home from a vacation that included about 2.5 days of driving. With six kids, you can imagine some of the things that can happen. I did good for some of it and had some good victories. At other times, I'm not proud of my attitude.

    I did learn some things though:

    Parents cannot keep their kids quiet, they can merely reduce the noise level.

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  23. This post disgusts me. I will NOT be giving you a pat on the back for admitting to being a terrible father as so many here have. I truly hope that wasn't what you were looking for when you wrote this. I am so sick to my stomach. I read this post last night and have been in almost constant prayer for your children since. I truly pray that you can find a way to be a great father to your children and somehow undo the damage you have already done.

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    1. I am praying for you and your children. And hopefully whatever damage you have done to them will be repaired.

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  24. A Novice Homemaker. Very much appreciated. Looking back, I think this is exactly the response I am looking for. At least, it is the response I tell myself when I go back and read this. I am still learning. Maybe your prayers have been and are being answered.

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  25. Great post...get it. I've felt these thoughts, feelings too, particularly with my eldest...and then loads of guilt for feeling it. It's getting better...she is growing and changing and so am I.

    And to A Novice Homemaker...go pound sand. This is a man who sees himself with honesty and hates what he sees and is making a change. This is life and the process of life. If you have not ever walked in those shoes...maybe it's about time you did.

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  26. This is one of the most beautifully honest things I have ever read. I wish for the sake of everyone in your family (YOU MOST SURELY INCLUDED) that this was not your experience, but since it is, thanks for showing your humanity.

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  27. See myself here- wow - love the blog....

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  28. What I see here Joe is a man who knows he is at fault and is begging for change. Which is good. Because change only happens when it knows it is wanted. When you are ready. I also see that you have a wife you do love. Who loves your children. Watch her. Between the love the two of you share and her loving the ki kids, you will learn how it works. Because she will teach you. Please let us know how your path is progressing.. I see this instalment is over a year old. What have you learned about your path in the meantime?

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  29. My friend I am pregnant and so worried I will not be able to love this child as it deserves.... You are overwhelmed.
    If you can not love just yet, focus on treating them in the meantime with consideration and respect. I tell myself I can surely do that. And hope the rest will follow.

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  30. I know this is an old post, but I had to comment. I'm almost 32 years old, wife to an awesome man, mother of three delightful boys. My real relationship with God has been teaching me to be a 'real' mom to my kids and to enjoy life - I also grew up in a miserable, stuffy environment that did not value childhood as it should have.
    I'm crazy about my boys and have learned to joke with them, tickle them, hug them for no reason and ask them out for ice cream with no provocation. I can totally identify with many of your fears and "deadness" to what should be one of the most beautiful things we ever get to experience. Hugs and I hope things are getting better and better for you and your wife.

    "Silver Princess"

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