Forgiving Father

June 27th, 2017

Probably all fathers fail their children to some degree. Claude Powers was a man who failed his child, then backed up and tried to make up for his failure.

Claude actually started out as a good father. But when his own father and brother died a couple years apart in the late 1950s, he started drinking heavily. Then the bottle took over, and of course, that affected his son Dennis. For Dennis, like all children, needed his father to weave three consistent messages of unconditional acceptance into the fabric of his life:

To me you are special.

No matter what, I love you.

You’re part of me; we belong together.

            When Dennis was about 12, his dad became a sneaky bottle-hider who told lies, wasted the family income in bars and dumped his farming responsibilities on his son. So instead of sending his son a father’s reassuring messages of faithful love and acceptance, Claude sent Dennis the message of the alcoholic: “Alcohol is more important than you are. You will always be relatively unimportant.”

Dennis stifled the pain, avoided his dad, and proved to his small community that he was important after all. He did exceptionally well in school, collecting enough high school credits to leave for the university one year early. In college he kept in touch with his parents and made sure the family relationship appeared fine to relatives and neighbors. In reality, he buried his anger and walled himself off emotionally from his dad.

But God heals broken hearts. Fathers and sons can reconcile.

A dozen years after Claude’s alcoholism took serious hold, Dennis’s parents discovered Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, and Claude started sobering up through AA’s 12-Step Program. About that same time Dennis began attending church and hearing about forgiveness.

Since the relationship was not damaged overnight, healing did not occur overnight. Claude worked on his end of the problem by giving up alcohol and making amends as best as he could. Dennis worked out his part by accepting his father’s efforts and struggling through the process of forgiveness. But in the end, the really deep healing occurred nearly twenty years later. And curiously, the only part Claude played in that final act of the drama was simply to grow old and lose his mind.

Claude became a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. At first he merely grew forgetful. Then, as his brain cells died in patches, he lost his smile, his charm, his good judgment and his table manners. He forgot how to dress, how to shave, how to bathe. About the time he forgot how to talk, he lost control of his body and had to wear diapers.

Every night Dennis would walk over to his parent’s mobile home, lead his 80-year-old father into the bathroom, and peel off his diaper. Then he toileted him, undressed him, and bathed him. In this process, somehow, Dennis found his healing.

When the father became like a child, the child became his own father’s father. For Dennis, forgiveness became complete through the work of his own hands as he lived out the messages he had needed so much as a teen to receive from his father:

To me you are special.

No matter what, I love you.

You’re part of me; we belong together.

Worth repeating:  The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth began when John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him and the Heavenly Father spoke a blessing that others could hear. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

Food for thought: What messages of unconditional acceptance do you find in the words God the Father used to affirm and strengthen Jesus for ministry?

Today’s Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I need your blessing, too. As I read my Bible, father me. Help me hear your message of love and grace for me. Amen

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