After yesterday’s semi-humorous blog
, I’m back on the serious side today. But bear with me; I’m writing about an issue that we all face at one time or another and many of us need to deal with once and for all.
One of the most dangerous promises we fathers can make our children is, “I’ll be there for you.” It’s a great promise if you can live up to it, but if you fail to show up at their band performance or game when you promised to be there, you can count on it: your child will be deeply disappointed.
I’ve seen so many dads whose failure to follow through on their promises turns their trusting child into an adult who is gun-shy about relationships. We dads may really want to treat our daughter as a princess, but sadly, life and its complications may get in the way and cause untold pain. And in places like southern Africa, it can get so complicated that children are left to raise children.
Alcoholics are the worst. Unable to control their addiction, they continually make and break promises. If your father was an alcoholic, you know what I mean. You probably knew that he loved you, but his actions continually betrayed his good intentions. When push came to shove, he loved the bottle more than you. And if he was a belligerent or abusive drunk, then you may still be working through the consequences. Deep disappointment is just one of many complicated emotions that you have about your father.
Even life-giving, affirming words can backfire on a father if his actions don’t back them up. The words, “I believe in you, you have great value,” are words that every child wants to hear their parents speak. But words like those raise your child’s expectations. They can’t help thinking the thought, “If I’m worth something, then my dad will show up in my life.”
We dads don’t even have to say words to disappoint our children. Children somehow know that it’s a dad’s job to provide for and protect them. They look at other dads and compare. We get set up for failure by doing too much or too little relative to some paternal gold standard. I know I let down all my children at one point or another.
And when you get busy and don’t show up in your child’s life, then deep disappointment is inevitable. If it develops into a pattern, this letdown can crystallize into a brittle cynicism in your child’s spirit.
We all get disappointed when our hopes are inflated and then not realized. It’s the repeated, unaddressed disappointment that turns into exasperation. I remember reading Eph. 6:4 when I was a kid, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” We children all get exasperated from time to time with our parents. The issue of poor character, life circumstances, and bad decisions get in the way.
Poor character – A person who lacks discipline may have the best of intentions but lack the follow thru to make good on them. If your dad is impulsive, then following his impulse may mean that he forgets your birthday.
Life circumstances – More and more dads are losing their jobs during the current economic downturn. If you’re one, God bless you, it’s a terrible place to be. You start feeling poorly about yourself and may even find yourself depressed. Circumstances weigh you down.
Bad decisions – To err is human. But some of errors have a more profound impact than others. A bad financial decision can end up hurting the whole family.
So what do you do when you’ve become an adult and still struggle with a deep disappointment and possibly bitterness with your father?
First, realize that most dads are pretty poor fathers at times. It’s no excuse, but we continually fail to live up to our children’s expectations, let alone God’s standard. So many things that you dads never intend can happen during the course of raising your children. If you could take back just a few bad decisions, you would. But how do you make it right once it’s gone wrong?
A good place to begin is with a letter of apology. Let me encourage you dads to set your children free. They need you to be brave and just take ownership for some things. A couple of blogs on how to do that here