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A Father's Lasting Impression

On a daily basis in my counseling practice, I see the impact fathers have had on their children. Some good. Some bad.

From the very first visit, I can determine the impression left by one's father and mother. Evaluative forms I give my clients ask them, among other things, to describe their parents and what was important to them. Very few people have respectful things to say about their fathers.

I am not writing this to get anyone upset or depressed about the heritage passed on by their father. But I do want us to look at what took place (or didn't take place) and then allow the Lord to replace, in His way, what was missing.

Our Dad and God

The image of God that many people have, I've found, is in direct correlation to the image of their earthly father. If their father was distant or uninvolved, they may view their Heavenly Father as cold and distant, uninterested in their life. If their father was abusive in some way, they may feel that God is harsh.

On the other hand, if their father was loving and kind, was there for them, and yet was firm and involved in their discipline, more than likely, they sense their Heavenly Father as loving and caring. And they have a respect for authority and the rules.

Since there are no perfect earthly fathers, the pictures of God each of us has (no matter how our fathers treated us) will be distorted to some degree. But without a doubt, in direct proportion of our earthly father's walk with the Heavenly Father we can see a reflection of the image of God.

Once Knew A Man

Once knew a man who was strong, who worked the earth on his German parents' farm.
Once knew a man who had a big, warm smile,who was easygoing and affectionate.
Once knew a man who went to church and read His Bible, who even went on church visitations.
Once knew a man who worried a lot, who would never fight, who tried to keep the peace when the neighbors fought.
Once knew a man who when his future daughter-in-law met him, thought: I hope my sons will be like him.
Once knew a man who would drop all that he was doing to help others.
Once knew a man who would feel so bad that he couldn't provide, who would leave church out of shame and guilt.
Once knew a man who became more cynical and more bitter when his efforts went unnoticed.
Once knew a man who started blaming others for his lack of success.
Once knew a man who started not to come home sometimes then, just left.
I didn't see the man I once knew much after that.
A few times.
When I saw him, the man I once knew was old and fragile.
He never succeeded. He was poor. All he talked about was the past.
Never talked about why he left.
Never talked about who he was.
Then I got a call.
The man I once knew was dying.
When I called him, he was crying.
Said he was sorry.
Sorry he messed up my life.
Sorry he ran away.
"Will you forgive me?" he asked.
As the time ticked away, I stopped.
I said to this man I once knew, "I did, a long time ago."
Will you accept God's forgiveness?
Will you accept Christ?
This man I once knew had betrayed his wife.
This man I once knew abandoned his children.
This man I once knew deserted his retarded daughter.
This man I once knew was my Dad.
My heart shouts, "Why?"
Who were you afraid of?
Of your wife or your children or yourself?
Why did you wait until your deathbed to deal with your fear?
Please do not be sorry for me.
Maybe, we should feel sorry for the man I once knew.
Maybe, at times, I would like to feel sorry for myself,
For the man I once knew brought a penetrating pain and deep loss to my life.
For my Dad was just that, the man I once knew.
Yet through this deep hurt and loss, God came.
So, now, I know a Dad, a Father who will never leave me or forsake me.
For now I know the God who will never be the god I once knew.

I wrote this poem a few years ago about my father. As you can see, I wasn't left with a sense of strength to stay in conflict—to resolve it and trust that God would work it out.

It took me a long time to process the pain my father caused and then recognize and overcome the legacy he left me. Before I knew it, I was following in his footsteps.

My Own Father's Imprint

My father grew up in a household in which his mother ruled the roost. It was not uncommon for my grandmother to put down and demean my grandfather, even in front of their children. I'm sure this treatment left him feeling "less of a man."

Typically when men feel inadequate, they are driven by a hunter instinct. Men want to get women to give themselves (while men fear giving themselves to women). As a result of growing up in this environment, both my father and his brother established their masculinity by conquering women.

I wouldn't say my parents were in love when they married (it was more out of necessity). Within a few years, they had three boys (I am the middle one). Tragedy struck when my younger brother, only 18 months old, drowned. Later my sister was born. As a baby, she developed a high fever that left her deaf and retarded.

In terms of a career, my dad never succeeded at anything he did. His mother had a way of sabotaging him and his efforts. Consequently, we were quite poor. There were times when we didn't have any electricity to heat the house in the winter (something vital in Milwaukee). Sometimes, we didn't have enough food.

I never remember any intimacy in my parent's relationship. In fact, my brother and I never knew the date of their wedding anniversary—there was never any celebration. During their entire marriage, my father was never faithful to my mother. I never really knew it though until I was off at college and my father left home, never to return.

The Bible is very clear that sin can be passed from one generation to the next. My father and uncle were adulterers, so were my brother and I.

Early in my marriage, I was unfaithful. I didn't really know why I was doing it except that a part of me was trying to prove I was a man by conquering women. During the first few years of my marriage, I didn't have an understanding of what it meant for a man to hang in and persevere. I worked hard to succeed at business, but I was failing in my marriage.

As a side note, it took time for me to forgive my father. Two weeks before he died, he and I talked on the phone. Through his tears, he asked me to forgive him. I said, "I've already forgiven you. That's not the issue." I went on to share the gospel with him. My father never understood the grace of God until the very end of his life.

The Good News

As a counselor, I've worked with hundreds of people whose lives were shaped negatively by their fathers. I can relate to their pain. I understand the distorted images they have of themselves. I offer them hope and help them make changes to be all they were created to be—I can do this because I found the same hope and change in Jesus Christ. If it weren't for the grace of God, I would have destroyed my marriage. I don't have the appropriate words to express my gratitude to God for intervening in my life.

Our hope is that the Lord can restore what "the locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25) and bring life out of deadness. He will continue to reveal His image of Himself to you. You can discover the image that God made you in—not the image left by your earthly father.

I ask people to pray two things—pray that you will discover more of God's image and the image He made you in as a man or woman. God will answer these prayers. He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb 11:6) and He desires for us to discover the image He made us in (Gen. 1:26).

None of us can change our past. We have to recognize the effects of our childhood pain and grieve over our loss. Many victims, in fear of facing their pain, hang on to their loss instead of releasing it. They don't let God replace what they had lost as a child. In essence, they continue to protect the loss rather than give it up and let God build something new.

After grieving, we must forgive our parents or those who caused our pain and hurt. In the process of granting forgiveness, we move into a new arena of being able to deal with life differently.

God promises to always be there for us. If we let Him, He will heal us His way—the perfect way. Let God fix the past through Christ and be open to learning and discovering new ways of responding to life.

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