Today we celebrate fathers. It’s a day of remembering for those of us who have lost them. For my son, Brooks, who’s the daddy of my grandsons, Baker and Parks, it’s feeling the love and the huge responsibility for his exuberant two and four-year-olds. With this day of national honoring of these men, comes mixed feelings as we had varied experiences with our fathers.
As a parent, I know I didn’t do a perfect job. I did the best I could given my personality that came out of my biology/genetics, my own family’s history, life experiences, socioeconomics/finances, and what was going on in the world when my two sons entered the scene; our fathers were influenced by the same things.
Last week when I walked down a grocery aisle, I saw something that reminded me of Daddy: Keebler Fudge Stripes Cookies. As I recall, he would occasionally buy those name-brand treats instead of the A & P Supermarket’s generic knock-off, probably on a better pay day. How I loved that sweet mix of vanilla cookie with chocolate Icing that had a nice crunch. We three daughters, preferred for Daddy to do the grocery shopping because he had a sweet tooth and would always bring home something special.
As a girl, I often had sore throats. The best thing about that was Daddy went to the store and bought me ice cream; I bet he had some, too!
There were many things I loved about my father. He was a hard worker and took great pride in whatever he did–teaching us the value of sticking to a job. Daddy did most of the family correspondence and wrote well and had careful penmanship. He’d compliment us on how we looked– like when we wore the Easter dresses Mama made. We enjoyed playing softball in the yard on Sunday afternoons and occasionally swimming at White Lake. He loved music–especially singing hymns around the piano while Harriet played and I added my alto. He cared deeply about his family and friends and was generous with produce from his garden. He was sensitive to people in need. I remember him loading the bed of his Chevrolet truck with wood to give to an elderly black couple, customers of Mama’s Rawleigh products route– her side business.
But like all fathers, Daddy was not perfect. He could have a ‘quick fuse,’ easily frustrated or angry. Underlying that was perfectionism that was pervasive in the Rosser family. Compounding perfectionism, Daddy was often tired from working multiple jobs and maintaining our farm.
I think about Daddy’s history. Born in 1920, his father died when Daddy was 11-yrs-old and his younger sister, Eula, was 6. When she was an adult, she remembered their father as “always tired.” A woman who knew our grandfather said of him,
“Mr. Rosser made those children walk the chalk like.” What an impression that would have made on our father and his siblings. When our Grandfather Rosser died in 1931, he left his wife and 8 children to keep the farm going through the Depression. No wonder Daddy always worked so hard, and like his father, Daddy looked tired–except on those Sundays when our Christian family didn’t work (thankfully!) and instead played softball and went swimming.
Of we three daughters, I was the one the most like Daddy– in appearance and temperament. Because of that, we had tension between us–especially when I was in middle school. I’ll never forget a Sunday morning when I was in eighth grade, we’d d traveled out of town to a family reunion. We were sitting in our car, waiting to go in, and Daddy and I had words about something— can’t remember the topic. He got so angry he said something very hurting to me, lodging straight in my heart.
I knew my behavior had provoked Daddy, my tendency to say too much getting the best of me; but his words still stunned me. I knew he loved me and couldn’t understand how a father could say that to his daughter. That hurt stayed with me.
Years later, when I was in the thick of being a mother to my two teenage sons, I was having a struggle with the older one, Brooks. He and I had always been more alike in appearance and temperament. It was spring of his senior year of high school, and in my opinion, he seemed to be ‘acting out’ before leaving the familiar family nest. Neither of us could let go of the argument and I felt my chest tightening and surely my blood pressure was rising. I had the sudden sensation that could lead to a heart attack; at that moment I was carried back to when Daddy said those things to me. I realized I’d provoked that same intense anger in Daddy that I felt in that moment toward Brooks.
While I was sorry I’d let things get so entangled with him, I was glad for that moment that helped me understand where Daddy’s words came from; it wasn’t that he meant to hurt me; it was that he said it from his quick fuse of anger.
I was fortunate that I had some years with Daddy to get to a better relationship. Before he died when I was 22, we had both mellowed and I saw a glimpse of him as an individual. I’ve always regretted not having more time to fully know him.
Over the years, and especially since that incident with Brooks, I’ve seen our need for forgiveness. Daddy and I had rough spots in our relationship that should have been talked about and dealt with. There are times when I wish I could have said, “Daddy, don’t work so hard so we’ll have more time with you.”
I realize that we’ve all had very different experiences with our fathers. Some have been neglectful–not enough time because dad was always working. Others have been physically or mentally ill and all of life focused on their needs. Some have been addicted to alcohol or substances and that took precedence over being a good father. Others have been abusive and have been extremely damaging physically and emotionally to their children. Some fathers have had impossibly high standards and made their children feel they were never good enough. Others have been so tightly controlled they were never able to say, “I love you.”
I write these things, not as an expert on fathers, but from my heart from what I’ve seen around me.
Recently, I’ve been rereading a book given to me during my divorce, Breaking & Mending: Divorce and God’s Grace by Mary Lou Redding. In the chapter, “A Bitter Root” she talks about dealing with painful issues in our lives:
“It is easy to avoid dealing with painful issues in our lives by saying that the time is not right. That allows us to push away (banish) the pain and the persons who have hurt us and to continue to deny that we have been hurt and are still hurting. When is the right time? The right time is whenever we become aware that pain from old wounds is leaking into today, interfering with life. That awareness is God calling to us, asking us if we want to be free and to move forward with our lives. If we do, God offers us a way to do so. It’s a process called forgiveness.” (p 67)
This process is different for each person and impacted by the type of hurt inflicted. I’m not suggesting to ‘sugar-coat’ and accept any form of abuse, but rather to put responsibility where it belongs and then be free of the hurt that’s holding you back.
Whatever your relationship is or was to your father, my prayer is that you’ll come to a place of seeing him as a whole person, with all the limitations of his life and all the difficulties of being in human form. And at the same time, may you give yourself the same grace.
I’m glad to report back that Brooks and I made it beyond that struggle senior spring and have managed through his early adulthood. Now, he’s experiencing his own struggles as a father. I imagine one day, he’ll be entangled with one of his sons and remember that moment with Mom years ago.