This weekend is Father’s Day. For me it is always a difficult time of year. I have never given or sent someone a Father’s Day card who was my father. It is difficult to praise or honor him for the trauma he put me through as a child. “You are nothing but half-assed,” he would say. It remains a constant mantra throughout my life. And I wonder if my own children feel the hatred toward me that I have felt toward my own Dad.
This time of year brings up many emotions in me. Perhaps the feelings most prevalent are the feelings of shame being a father to my own children. I don’t know if they remember the bad days, the yelling, the spankens, the absence when I should have been there, the lack of involvement when I was involved in my own things, things I would have done differently, etc, ad infinitum. The list is a long one. But…I remember.
The shame of my perceived failures as a father and the shoulds of what I wish I had done haunt me terribly. These crowd my mind and only leave room for the self-contempt to grow. I am not certain that any other Fathers experience this. I doubt my father ever did. He told me once that he loved the bottle more than he loved me. Lack of honor and silence from my children only exacerbates my self-hatred.
I have recently been talking to God about the self-condemnation inside my head. Many years ago I was told that I had “low self-esteem.” So, I tried to raise that by attending self-help conventions and reading self-help books. I met Art Linkletter, Paul Harvey, Zig Ziglar, and was grabbed by the lapels and screamed at by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. As I began working in the field of adolescent psychology, I joined the Speaker’s Bureau and did talks on the topic, “You and Your Child’s Self-esteem.” I spoke to schools and churches all around Kansas City. That was, until at one church I opened it up for questions and a man asked, “Are we born with self-esteem and then lose it? Or are we born without self-esteem and have to learn it.” The question was left unanswered. I didn’t know.
That question bugged me, so I went to my source of truth and for ten long years wrote down every verse in the Bible about having self-esteem. There are none. Even though some point to verses to try and prove it, the Bible says we are not to think more highly of ourselves. There are hundreds of verses saying the opposite about self-love. We are not to be arrogant and proud. After I read the part in the book of Revelation where they looked for someone worthy to open “the book” I found that only Jesus Christ was worthy. I went from thinking, “Only what you are in yourself makes you worthy.” To “Only what you are in Christ makes you worthy.” To finally, “Only Christ is worthy.” I walked away from the idea of seeking self-esteem.
For the next thirty years I practiced this. Yet, I had such contempt for myself that I thought it made me humble. Actually, it made me self-centered. I am bad. I am no good. I can’t do anything right. Notice the “I”s? I went to the extreme. Pride was the opposite extreme and I stayed as far from pride as I could. I discounted what I did well. I side-stepped other’s compliments. But in doing so, I now realize that I have been telling God that I was better than Him. That He can forgive sin, but I cannot. My self-condemnation was stronger than my salvation. I had forgotten that He made me. That He forgave me. That He loves me. I have lost the idea of being kind to myself and praising God for being wonderfully made.
I once went to the pastor I worked under and sat across his desk telling him all the things I did wrong, and neglected, and failed to do in my ministry there. He looked at me and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I sluffed it off as him being ignorant and unobservant.
There has to be a balance. Yes, sin is bad. And I identified as a sinner—a bad person—and tried to convince God that He was wrong when He looked at me through the filter of Christ’s blood.
Now, slowly, I am learning to apply God’s loving-kindness to myself and attempting to change the constant contempt to praising Him for the truth of who and what I am.
Yet, the shame and guilt of long ago failures and perceived neglect regarding my children cry out from the grave during Father’s Day. And, I find myself wanting to apologize for the sins only I remember. Therefore, I pray…Dear Lord, I….