Fatherhood is Deeper Than a Day
by John Torgerson (June 2014)
I have good memories of my father. He was born in 1894 and his father died in a farm accident when my dad was ten years old. I never heard my dad talk about his father in a positive way. He had more warm feelings for his mother, but at age ten he began to share the care for his mother with his other ten siblings, and those memories were apparently more vivid for him.
My grandmother on my mother’s side had a child out of wedlock, which must have been devastating considering the mores of the early twentieth century. She married another man, and she died at the birth of my mother in 1904. My grandfather chose not to raise his daughter, and she ended up with a farm couple who were in their fifties. They apparently did not know how to raise a child, and from what I have heard from my dad, her relationship with her stepparents was what we would call today, “elder abuse”.
That forty-one year old man and that thirty-one year old woman probably saw their courtship as a “last chance” when they got married in 1936. My dad thought my mother’s abuse would not happen in their marriage. He was wrong. She spoke evil of my dad and many other people, except her only son - me - born in 1945. Despite that dismal marriage, my dad loved me and loved my mother. To his dieing day he managed our family finances with depression era spending habits so that mother would have the finances to go to a nursing home if she had to. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that those savings would barely last a year in a nursing home.
What kept dad going was his belief in God. That God was a God who said that marriage - good or bad - was until death. He was a God who said that marriage came before sex and if one fathered a child, the man became a father and a husband for life. These were the laws of the pre-World War II era.
We Christians believe that “God is love” and we pray to a God named “Father”. That obligates us to do something to improve fatherhood. Returning to the “laws” of the pre-World War II era will not work because we demand our rights to separate sex, marriage, love and children. The result is that one in four American children live without their biological dads.
Laws cannot change hearts - not governmental laws - not Bible laws. “…the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.” That’s a quote from the preface of a children’s Bible story book, so this is not deep theology. Living life, including being a father, is all about believing what God has done.
In the Old Testament God whispers what he has done; in the New Testament, God shouts. God the Father loves us as pure and holy people because Jesus forgave all our sins at the cross - all people - past, present, and future - no strings attached. My father loved my mother a tiny bit like that. The only thing that we can do is to believe what God has done and surrender to God’s love. In that surrender, we show and tell God’s love to all we know - most certainly including our spouses and children. That’s what is called living “in Christ”, an expression that appears dozens of times in the New Testament.
Thus we are earthly images of a deeper heavenly reality. In that reality God is the male who is in union with us as a female. And in that union we partner with God to help other people become believers. In that reality, there will be plenty of challenges in our life, but I am convinced that there will be fewer challenges that originate from within a marriage.
My father may have said that he believed in pre-World War II mores. But that third person of God, the Holy Spirit, will direct us to live in Christ, rather than in law, as long as we do not demand our rights to live otherwise.