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“Everyone used to tell me big boys don’t cry, but I’ve been around enough to know that was the lie, that held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons, well we are children no more, we have sinned and grown old, and our Father still waits and He watches down the road, to see the crying boys come running back into His arms…”

You sit on your couch, your eyes watching the game, but your heart is in your stomach. She just left, hair fixed and too short skirt in your opinion, out the door with that kid. You don’t know much about him, just that he looked shifty eyed and nervous tonight, and you wonder if he’s nervous about meeting you or about what he has planned for in his car later with your little girl. The cheering and whistles fade into the background of your mind while you rewind the last five years, flipping through memories and hoping to find the moment where you taught her how much she’s worth, and how she should be treated by a boy…but you come up empty. As the clock ticks, you wonder what choices she is making right now, and if she knows all the things you have somehow forgotten to say.

You wrap your arms around her while she cries after the doctor has left the room. The whispers of “I’m so sorry” echo around the room as if they were shouted from a bullhorn. You wonder how it is that dreams can vanish so quickly, for one minute you were imagining coaching little league teams and passing down your father’s name, and the next you are trying to make sense of the word miscarriage. You slip into the comfortable robes of action and productivity, and barely notice that while people tell your wife that they are sorry for her loss, that they understand, that it is okay for her to grieve, no one seems to remember to say that to you too. You drive home and glance at a man playing catch with his son. The lump that contains all the blackness of hurt and anger rises up and threatens to choke out any joy that remains. You pull into your driveway, and dry your eyes. “She’s hurting enough”, you think, so you take a deep breath and go inside, ready to pick her up when she falls.

The kids wave and get into the car as you watch. It disappears around the corner, but you just stand there, because you know that the *click* of the door shutting is the beginning of long days until it’s your turn to have them again. At first the quiet is nice, a reprieve from the chaos and noise. At first, relief. It’s difficult to keep your voice and face neutral when your boy mentions Mom going out on a date. But soon the quiet feels oppressive, like the weight of past mistakes is slowly pressing down, the vapors of regret chilling the air. You turn the television on, hoping it drowns out the voice that wonders if “Dad” will soon be a shared title.

The conversation is stilted, lines of polite clichés interrupted by moments of awkwardness. You and he avoid the landmine topics, and stick to the safe. You see him less now, at first it was weeks, but now it’s months and you know it will  eventually be years between visits. His life is a mystery to you, although you are sure he is successful, because he’s smart and engaging with others. You don’t know if he is happy. You don’t know if his marriage is secure. And you don’t know how he feels about coming to visit you. The conversation skirts close to the past and like a skittish cat, you quickly divert back to safer ground. He’s your son, but there’s no real warmth there. He’s tried to talk to you about the distance before, but your pride deflected the words. And now you sit, the loudest silence between you both, and you wonder if it’s too late for things to be different. You wonder what he would say if you said you were sorry. You wonder if his eyes sting from held back tears like yours do. He stands to leave, you take a deep breath to jump off the high board of vulnerability, and then you step back, climb back down the ladder and walk away. “Maybe next time”, you think. You hope his relationship with his son has fared better.

You open the Fathers Day card, and smile at the misspelled words and smudged coloring. You never thought you had this much room in your heart for this amount of love. You never thought hearing “daddy!” would evoke feelings of protectiveness and joy. You never thought you’d spend Saturdays watching soccer games and playing tea party. You never thought you’d spend a bonus on a guitar for your boy, because you keep catching him staring at yours. You never thought you’d be in awe of the woman who made you a father, and who keeps track of shoe sizes, school papers, and doctor’s appointments. And in the quiet of the night after the kids are in bed, you are alone with your thoughts and remember your oldest child. The child you don’t tuck in or chase the ice cream truck with. The child you only saw on a blurry piece of paper in the hand of a trembling woman. That one that ceased to be a child in your head, and was instead a choice. You close your eyes tight and take a deep breath and comfort yourself with the knowledge that there is forgiveness. You allow tears for the child that doesn’t have a face, but who made you a father for the first time.

You see pictures, but hear no words. You are a father, but not a daddy. When people ask how many kids you have, you don’t exactly know how to answer. You know they have questions, but you don’t have any answers- at least, not any answers that you think will satisfy. You wonder how far forgiveness could possibly extend. You only allow yourself snippets of thoughts about them, because otherwise the pain is too great. “Abandoner” is your scarlet letter. You justify that maybe it’s not a big deal, lots of people grow up without fathers, but deep down, you know you inflicted a wound that won’t totally heal, just scar over.

You sit, reading this. You are relaxed, the children are healthy and your wife is happy. You are surrounded by strong men that you can look up to and imitate their parenting. Your kids are well-behaved, and learning how to be responsible and caring towards others. There’s money in the bank- enough to be comfortable, but not enough to feel excessive. You are respected at work as one of the good guys, and are approached frequently for advice. You serve in your church, give more than the ten percent you think God wants, and teach your children to study God’s word. Your life isn’t perfect, but you are grateful that you seemed to have avoided many of the tragedies that you’ve watched your friends walked through. Loving husband and father, life is good…except for that raging pornography addiction. You try to convince yourself that the tiny weed you started with hasn’t spread to your entire yard, choking the life from any of the beauty that is living there. You know it’s a lie. You know you are fooling yourself. You know she will find out eventually. You know you should stop. You plan for your next hit when your wife goes to bed. You are held up as a great father, but you fear your legacy will shatter someday.

When I thought about what I wanted to say for Fathers Day, it was this- there is a Father who is perfect, and He takes all the mistakes, the selfishness, the fear, the blame, the escape, the darkness, and can turn them into beauty. He can turn fathers into daddies. He can restore and redeem what you think is broken beyond repair. It is never too late. 

Jesus, heal us. Remind us that you are not an absent father, and that you are the only thing that can truly repair broken hearts. Give fathers courage to love and lead, in spite of a world that devalues them. Give children compassion, because those father wounds are stubborn and slow to heal. Let us not be adults who hold onto pain without mercy. 

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