Father's Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. It is believed that Louise Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington started this holiday in 1910. Louise wanted to honor her own father so she asked people in her church to wear a red rose if their fathers were living or a white rose if they were dead.
Bible tells us to "Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Ephesians 6:2-3).
I wish I could sit next to my dad at church this Father's Day but that is impossible. Dad passed away in 1986 but I still think about him often. Whenever I thought of dad, I am filled with mixed emotions.
When I was small, I heard about how dad betrayed mom for another woman (who became his concubine). I felt rejected by him knowing that my half-brother was born when I was one. "Having a son" was the excuse used to justify the affair, but it damaged my identity as a girl. Mom dressed me in boy's clothes in my younger days and treated me as her confidant when I was growing up. Feeling insignificant, I tried very hard to be better than boys academically, athletically, and socially. I wanted to please my dad and grandma, and to honor my mom.
After their marital storm, my parents tried to live a normal life – as normal as it could be living with my grandmother and four families of my dad's siblings. Grandmother had two cooks and our extended family ate dinner together daily, four to five round tables. Dad only came home four nights a week, year after year.
On top of all this complexity, tragedy struck. When my half-brother was ten, he was run over and killed by his school bus. Dad was deeply saddened and guilt-stricken. Ironically, about one year before that fatal accident, my family celebrated the birth of my little brother. After trying for nine years, mom finally gave dad a legitimate son even though doctors warned her of the risk of pregnancy. Sadly, our mom passed away when my brother was merely 14. Dad felt sorry to both sides of his family.
Sometimes I wonder why my dad had to go through so much losses and grief. In a special way, he was a very good husband and father. Having two wives was not uncommon in those days, but he was very consistent and he kept his promises to his children. Dad struggled to prove fairness to both women but that was an impossible task. I still have a vivid memory of dad telling my cousins at dinner (after much wine and with tears in his eyes), "Don't you ever have two wives! One is enough!"
Most of us feel closer to our mothers than our fathers. The mother-child bond is often instinctive. Traditionally, fathers work outside of the home and mothers take care of kids. Nowadays, many fathers are more involved with child rearing. They start talking to the baby over their wives' abdomen. They coach their wives to breathe and push in the birthing room. And they change diapers and feed the baby.
With all these efforts, a man may still feel disappointed that he simply cannot meet the needs of a crying baby. He may feel frustrated that baby has become his wife's center of attention. After working all day, the "poor" daddy tries to help with "mothering" tasks and household chores that he may not have done before. When other people (e.g. family, friends and neighbors) give conflicting advices and impose unrealistic expectations, he feels irritated, anxious, and at times hurt. He misses his lovely and loving wife! Not knowing how to express what is bothering him inside, he withdraws and turns his attention elsewhere (e.g. career, more schooling, sports, TV, internet, pornography, and even affairs) to alleviate his own pain, inadequacy and loneliness.
It is sad that a father feels discouraged and disconnected from his wife when she is trying to recuperate and take care of her baby. Having a young child is a major growth path towards maturity for every couple, both as individuals and as partners. They need love and support from each other as they may be going through drastic changes physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. However, it is not easy for husband and wife to maintain intimacy and communication while adjusting to new roles as parents. How do couples find time to get cozy, talk and listen to each other?
Infancy is a stage. If a father stays around with love and patience, he will realize that he indeed can play a very important role in the lives of his children, sooner or later. In his book "Making Peace with Your Father," David Stoop, Ph.D. comments, "Unfortunately, too many fathers never seem to notice that infants turn into toddlers and schoolchildren and adolescents. They continue to think that caring for children is women's work."
We tend to carry unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors from generations to generations. The tragedies in my family of origin have helped me understand human darkness and struggles. There were times that I hated my dad, even though I always love him. When I became a young mother, the conflicts between my parents became the backdrop of every conflict between my husband and me. I got triggered easily.
My turning point came in January 1989 when I trusted Jesus as my Savior. In reading the Bible, I realized that God created man and woman (i.e. boy and girl) in His image. In times, God healed my deep wounds with His love and faithfulness. I accepted my past and forgave everyone who hurt us (including my grandma, dad, and the other woman). Later, I found out that dad received Christ before his death.
By now you are wondering what does sharing my family secrets have to do with honoring my father. Guess what? I think I am doing what my dad would do, if he still lives on earth. Since becoming a Christian twenty-two years ago, dad most likely would have been telling people how Jesus Christ healed his broken and contrite heart (read Psalm 51).
Looking back, I strongly believe dad tried to correct his mistakes under terrifying circumstances in an unhealthy culture. I think he tried his best to be a good husband and father. He provided for us, shared dinner with us (four nights a week), and took us to the park, movies and restaurants. He sent me to United States for college. In spite of his earlier mistakes, he became a responsible man. Dad (and mom both) shaped me into the person I am now – passionate in helping couples deal with crises stemmed from normal life transitions and unusual circumstances. I cannot rewrite history but I can say, "I love You, Dad! I am so happy that you are with Jesus now!"
If my dad is still here on earth, he would want to grow in his new life. How about you? Do you have problems individually, as a couple, or as parents? Do you have unfinished business with your own parents? Do you have unhealthy interactions and patterns with your spouse and children?
If you have set some SMART goal(s) since my last newsletter, it may be time to implement changes using this CHANGE model from Dr. David Olson's PREPARE/ENRICH (pre-)marital counseling:
Commit yourself to a special goal.
Habits ... break old and start new habits.
Action ... take one step at a time.
Never give up ... lapses might occur
Goal-oriented ... focus on the positive.
Evaluate and reward yourself.
In his book, "The Measure of a Man," author Gene Getz offers tips for a Christian man to remain faithful to one wife:
- Develop good communications with your wife.
- Do not set up conflict situations by deliberately exposing yourself to temptation.
- Fortify yourself through regular study of the Word of God and prayer.
- Avoid unnecessary idleness
- Seek help from someone you can trust if the problem seems beyond your control.
My dad would definitely want to help a younger man in similar situation as his! He would tell the guy that it is very important for a man to have accountability, understanding and support from other mature Christian men. If the man is unable to share his feelings with his wife, it would be much safer for him to seek professional counseling instead of sharing his emotional issues alone with another woman (single or married) in his social network.
It is a big step for anyone to humbly and willingly admits problems and seeks resolutions. Changes will take time. But every small positive movement in the right direction will count. Set your heart right and renew your hope!
Happy Father's Day!
[Editor's note: This article is contributed by Winnis Chiang, who is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder and Director of Parenting ABC.]