Tonight I’m going to London. The reason I’m going to London is to spend some time with two of my fathers. I’ve actually got four fathers. And my father died five years ago.
Sorry for my riddling. On Thursday I’m going to spend the day walking in Regents Park, praying and listening to God – that’s father number one. I’m staying with my father-in-law – that’s father number two – and on Friday we’re going for a walk together in Epping Forest. Father number three is my pastor in Coventry – a spiritual dad. And father number four is Dad – who died in 2001.
This year I’ve been reflecting a lot on fathers: reading, pondering, thinking through the implications for my own life – and, of course, I’ve been being a dad to my own daughter and son.
There’s a lot to consider. A lot of the thoughts I’ve arrived at are really rather obvious – but that doesn’t mean they’re not overlooked.
Like: sons need their dads. They need them to teach them how to be a man. Not a woman, not a mouse, nor an ogre – a man. With all the strength and compassion that being a man ought to involve. But fathers are often absent (physically or emotionally), sometimes very imperfect, never perfect. So men everywhere grow up with what some writers call ‘the father-wound’ – the result of an ultimately unfulfilled longing for a true father-son bond.
Sometimes the father-wound results in feminisation; sometimes in aggression (the number of ‘bad’ fathers who were badly fathered...); sometimes in homosexuality; sometimes in heterosexual promiscuity; but probably most often in an ill-defined but deep-seated general insecurity.
The answer? Well, it can’t be a pat answer, but the answer is Father God. It is in relationship with Father God that men begin to find healing form the father-wound. And in relationship with Elder Brother Jesus (and His Spirit who teaches us to call God ‘Abba Father’) that they learn how to be a true son.
Yet it goes wider than that. Fathered by God, men come to know their need of real relationships with other men. Not beery joviality. Not going fishing and sitting in gloomy (but at least male) silence. But brotherhood. And with brotherhood comes fatherhood – men, in the church of Jesus are fathered by one another. It starts with knowing God as Father (and Jesus insists we must replace Him in that role with no man – Matthew 23:9) but it grows from this to (usually older) men in the church fathering other (usually younger) ones. And so Paul called Timothy his ‘dear son’ and John writes to ‘fathers’ and the ‘young men’ they father in his letter.
I had a relationship with my Dad which was full of longing which was rarely (not never) fulfilled. He found it difficult to connect emotionally largely because of a difficult relationship with his dad. When I came to know Father God, aged 16, He began to meet my need for fathering.
But, as I reflect on those early years as a Christian, I realise that I saw God as a mother. Oh, I sang songs about ‘Father God’ – but He was warm, He put His arms around me... He rocked me to sleep and called me diddums – well, not quite, but it was certainly in primarily maternal terms that I saw God.
And not surprising. I always had a secure, loving relationship with Mum. She was a great mum – I owe her more than can be expressed. But she wasn’t a dad. And because Dad was never quite able to call me away from the maternal into the male, I’d got stuck.
What changed things? God led me to other men in His church. Men like my spiritual dad in Coventry. And, later, my Christian father-in-law. I joined a church with a strong emphasis on brotherhood. God started to show me what a man of God looked like.
It was terrifying at times. I remember one particularly vivid experience. I’d been thinking about John the Baptist and I suddenly realised I was scared witless by him. This wild, shouting, unpredictable, hairy man. Nothing maternal about him. I got beyond the cardboard-cut-out Bible character and suddenly realised the kind of men God hung out with! And the Spirit showed me that it is through John the Baptist, through the ‘wild man’, that I ‘behold the Lamb of God’ – Jesus.
I started to make friends with masculinity and not to be afraid of it. I’m still very much on that journey. And God, and my fathers – and my brothers and my son – are helping me get there.
(Daughters need their dads too – and dads their daughters... but I’ll save that for another post...)