For some it's a game. For some it's for keeps.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:5)
Four-year-old Isaac, with a flash of his bright eyes and curly blond hair, can pretty much convince you to do just about anything. That boy is going to be trouble and all you can do is smile as you pull him off the next piece of furniture.
The staff were all gathered together for lunch one day when Isaac came by the office, along with his mother and sister, to visit his dad. After the meal was over, Isaac ran around the conference table and taunting his father, "Catch me Daddy!" Every time he passed one of the guys that had gathered around for lunch we would growl and try to hook him with our arms. He giggled that 4-year-old sunshine of a giggle, eluding our scary traps as he playfully derided us, "I passed you!"
"Lately, he likes to be chased and get caught," his dad later explained to me.
One of my delights in life, as a single man, is watching good parents love their children, and seeing those children flourish in that loving environment. I love watching little Isaac's eyes when his daddy "catches" him and he no longer wants to escape the embrace and just smiles and rests.
Rests, that is, for about two minutes and then is off to the races again. I like that part too.
A Different Kind of Chase
I only remember brief encounters with my Bio Dad when I was Isaac's age. And then there are a few brief drunken snapshots of him when I was in fifth and sixth grades in Nashville. That's pretty much it.
My dad did all the running then and there was no catching him.
One fateful day, during the "snapshot" time-frame, he got in a fight with my mom and her new boyfriend, Wallace, a man who would eventually become my stepfather. I stood at the screen door, watching this mystery called "Daddy" go huffing out to his car. I called after him, "Are you going to come back?" He jumped in his car, rolled down the window and said, "I'll call you tomorrow."
He never called.
He never knew I wanted to be chased and caught by a loving father. He never knew I wanted him to roughhouse with me, to throw me up in the air or spin me around the room. He didn't know that the only attention I did get was abusive. The arms that reached for me were usually scary, and I didn't have anyone to rescue me. I wanted to chase after my Bio Dad, but my young heart knew that he didn't want me too.
I found my Bio Dad eight years later. I had become a drug addict and he was an alcoholic. Six more years passed; six tumultuous years.
Still Not Accepted
Eventually, I discovered Narcotics Anonymous, got myself clean, and found myself on a very odd spiritual quest that led to a saving knowledge of Christ.
In time, my head cleared. I found myself unable to ignore the fact that my Bio Dad's solitary goal was to live out a narcissistic projection, one that did not allow for anyone to disagree with him or challenge his view of life. He'd try to coerce me to repeat his version of our past and his views of life, and if I didn't play along, he would become furious and verbally lash out at me.
During our last phone call, 14 years ago, six years after finding him, he complained that at first he had to "deal with" a son who used to [insert graphic homosexual act here]. He followed that with, "and now he's a &*@! Christian!" He said he liked me better as a flaming faggot than a bleeping Christian. I was stunned. He ended the phone call with a blasphemous joke about Christ.
He'll Pay For His Sins
I hung up the phone, angry at how selfish and awful my father was. Instead of going to a bar and getting wasted, as I might have done a few years earlier, I directed all of it toward my imagination.
I imagined my father hanging over an abyss. The only thing keeping him from falling was his fingers on the edge of a cliff. In my mind's eye, I crouched down to glare at him. He didn't see me. I didn't necessarily want him to fall, but inside I was getting an evil pleasure imagining him squirming in terror.
Then I felt the Lord remind me that He was now my Father, and not my Bio Dad. And then I felt Him say something unexpected: "Randy, you know that if your dad asked me for forgiveness, I would forgive him, without hesitation and without your permission."
I was conflicted. In my head I knew why God would forgive my Dad. He would forgive him because Christ paid the price for all sin, including my dad's sins against me. Yet my heart was angry. I wanted ... but didn't want ... my dad to pay for the abuse he had committed against me as a child and never apologized for. I wanted him to hurt for every bruise and strike that had been dealt to me in his absence, pain from which he should have protected me. I wanted him to hurt ... and yet I knew that this is not what God, our Heavenly Father, would want.
It was the most painful ambivalence I had ever experienced to that point.
At that point I believe the Holy Spirit reminded me of a litany of abusive words and violent acts my Bio Dad had committed against me. Each memory was followed by a vision of Jesus being tortured, scourged, crucified. My father's sins against me were sins that Christ absorbed into Himself.
Convicted of the malice I felt toward my dad, I wept so hard and for so long that I lost track of time. Something in my spirit clicked and I started begging God to lead my dad to repentance. I even found myself repeating a paraphrase of the words of Jesus Himself as He hung on the cross: "Please forgive Dad! He has no idea what he has done!"
My True Father Caught Me
From that point on I no longer hated my Bio Dad. Anger over specific events and situations still took time to diminish, but I no longer hated him.
This is the part of a testimony where you normally hear the "good stuff." You might expect to hear about how my dad came to know Christ and today we are best buds. Well, that didn't happen. I can't find him. I haven't heard from him in years.
If he does show up, I'd probably still want to maintain some boundaries, but my love would be unconditional. I would hope to be more gracious and forgiving, but forgiveness doesn't require one to be a needless martyr. I just want to hold my Bio Dad's hand and ask him to tell me about his life. Instead of sneering as he waivers perilously over an abyss of my own creating, or perhaps even his, I'll extend a hand and simply listen. My hope is that he'd see Christ in me and be drawn out of the pit and to the foot of the Cross.
I can't relive my life; I can't start over again, hoping for a better home life; the carefree blond 4-year-old has grown up. And the truth is that my Bio Dad blew it; I've had to grieve this reality and let it go.
Yet, where my Bio Dad failed as a father, God my Father has more than compensated. Where my Bio Dad failed to be a daily part of my life and constant influence of wisdom and good, my Heavenly Father often steps in before I even know what to ask. And just like many earthly dads, He seems always ready to give advice, warnings, challenges. And not in a patronizing way; I'm no longer a little boy, after all, I am His son.
Back to That Blond Kid
When I watch my friend look at his son's silly antics with absolute delight, I notice that Isaac is oftentimes not even aware of his dad's pleasure. When I see that dynamic at work, I think of how unaware I am of my heavenly Father's countenance. I wonder if He has enjoyed watching me as I walk out my faith.
I was a tow-head like Isaac until I was 4 years old. I was and am very extroverted just like little Isaac. And when I see my friend love on his son it makes me think of how my heavenly Father viewed me when I was that young. Though I was unaware of Him, He's chased me my whole life. As I rode my "Green Machine," He pursued me. As I cried myself to sleep at night during the awful times, He sang softly over me. Through my hellacious teen years, He chased me. He sought me through gay bars as a young confused man, and trailed me across state lines and relationship after relationship.
Though I did a lot of running, in my heart I wanted to be caught by unconditional love; I just didn't know what that looked like until I was apprehended by Christ. And like little Isaac, now that I'm caught, in my Father's embrace I am content.
Copyright 2008 Randy Thomas. All rights reserved.