My father cried in the movie theater when the hunter shot Bambi’s mom.
When I think of him, I often think of this, and the unguarded way he told us kids about it. This is a fact about my dad: he’s not ashamed to cry.
My dad is not your typical dad in a lot of ways. Your typical Father’s Day card themes just don’t fit him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear a tie. Before he sold the carpet cleaning business he owned, he liked working for himself, working with his hands, pushing his body to the edge sometimes. He’s never played golf, never watched sports games. I didn’t even know what the Superbowl was as a kid.
Also unlike a lot of dads, he’s never been afraid to say things right out loud. When I was a kid, he and my mom were both incredibly vocal about their confidence in my future. There was obviously never a doubt in their minds I would attend and graduate college, for instance, and because of that, I never really doubted it myself. Even now, he never misses a chance to tell me he’s proud of me and trusts the decisions I make.
Dad also enjoys analyzing things and arguing for his point of view, a trait I inherited. He and I got into some heated discussions during my teen years about religion, science, technology, political issues. My sister shook her head and left the room, astounded by how passionately we could fight over cosmic issues that seemingly had little to do with our daily lives. I remember some times that we ended up all-out screaming at each other. But the thing is, I could do that with him. I felt safe with him. I knew I could scream my heart out to him without any fear that he would stop loving me.
Of course, there were several years in my teens when I barely spoke to him. Because of my mom’s addiction, because of how my dad tried to protect us from it and how he sometimes failed to do so, I felt profoundly unsafe around both my parents at times. I felt I had to shut them out of my heart just to survive. I know my near-total silence hurt him worse than any screaming could have done.
I remember vividly one late night or early morning when he came and sat down in the computer room where I spent most of my time. I’d been up all night chatting with friends across the country, my new partners in friendly debate, about subjects I never brought to my dad anymore. In a few hours, I’d go to bed, living on an opposite schedule from everyone else in the house, minimizing my contact with them.
There was no light in the room except for the glow of the computer. Dad sat there in the dark for awhile. Then he said something like, “You know, the way you’re treating me right now, ignoring me, not talking to me, it really hurts, and I don’t even understand why you’re doing it. But you know what, that’s okay. I’m going to wait. I know we’ll be close again someday, and I’m going to wait for you to come around. I know you will. I love you.”
Among all my memories of my dad, this one stands out to me . I wasn’t able to appreciate at the time the enormous love that motivated his words that night. Rather than writing me off or even venting his frustration to me, he sat there in the dark and said he would wait for me, in love, to move closer to him again.
My father isn’t God (obviously), but I believe the God who is often called a Heavenly Father has often shown himself to me in my earthly father. I believe in a tenderhearted God, one who cries over a hurting, orphaned child. I believe in a God who is quick to show love, whose visions and promises give us hope for the future. I believe in a God who can take our frustrated screaming or our stony silence. I believe in a God who is unafraid to sit in darkness, loving us utterly despite our refusal to reciprocate or our inability to trust, waiting patiently for us to come around.