One of my great joys in the past few months was reconnecting to my father on a recent trip to Tucson.
Before this trip, I hadn’t seen my dad in nearly three years. He was on the West Coast, trying to make a fresh start in San Diego. I was on the East Coast, planning to make a fresh start in Asheville.
Our communication became increasingly infrequent. One phone call a month turned into every two or three months. Soon, we were just exchanging emails at Christmas and birthdays. Finally, I stopped hearing from him all together.
It wasn’t caused by an argument. There wasn’t a specific moment where we had a falling out. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t my fault. It was just a lifetime of struggling to connect, struggling to understand one another, struggling to be a father, struggling to be a son.
When my dad moved out of the house when I was 13, I spent most of my teenage years in a mental haze of anger and abandonment that I could barely understand. All I knew then was that I didn’t want to become anything like my father. He was deeply religious, so I left the church. He was an athlete, so I turned to the arts and poetry. Above all, I was certain that I never wanted to become a father. The thought of bringing a child into the world, only to pass on the same dysfunctional patterns, terrified me to the core.
But at age 34, I’m no longer a scared and angry teenager. In the words of Paul, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It was time to make peace with my father.
There’s an ancient mythological motif of the young hero having to rescue his father from the belly of a monster. (For modern examples, think of Pinocchio saving Geppetto from the belly of whale, or Luke Skywalker redeeming Darth Vader from the influence of the dark side). This doesn’t mean that every son (or daughter) is responsible for saving or healing their biological father from his struggles, problems, or addictions. But I believe it points to a moment when we are called to heal our own Inner Father - that spirit of the Father passed down by our earthly father, who received it from his father, and his father before him.
What is the spirit of the Father? It is the powerful force of archetypal Fatherly love, different from the archetype of motherly love. The archetype of a mother’s love is warm and unconditional, all-embracing and all-forgiving. Fatherly love, however, is the voice of expectation and discipline, symbolic of the responsibilities the world inevitably places on our shoulders.
Fatherly love says: “I love you, and because of this love, I expect great things from you. You are responsible for becoming the highest vision of yourself and I am here to hold you accountable to all that you can be. Don’t let me down.”
Needless to say, many of us spend years in rebellion against this voice (and sometimes justifiably, since the spirit of the Father, when unconscious, can quickly turn into the spirit of the Tyrant). But for the full development of our souls, we need the tough love of the Father as much as we need the warm embrace of the Mother. We need discipline as well as compassion if we are to bring forth the greatness within ourselves.
When I boarded that plane to visit my dad, to see him in the flesh after three years, I felt ready to heal that deep Father wound that had lived within me for so long. I was ready to welcome him home inside my heart, imperfect as he may be (and imperfect as I may be). I was ready to finally understand that he did the best he could as a father, that he passed down to his only son the best of what was within him - especially his faith & love of God. And it is my joyful duty to pass that on.
On this trip, it dawned on me like a revelation - that despite all my fears around fatherhood and marriage, I did indeed want to become a father someday. I want to hold a child in my arms one day and pass on to him or her the best of what is within me. I know I will do it imperfectly, with endless missteps and stumbles, just like all parents. But I will walk that path knowing that I have made my peace with the Father within me, and with my father here on earth. And for that, I am so grateful.
I know that not every parent/child relationship can be healed. Some have been so torn by abuse, addiction, and dysfunction that they may never be repaired. But take my word on this. If there is a wound that might be healed between you and your father, if there’s a disconnect that might be bridged, if there’s a conversation you could begin that might result in reconciliation… please, consider reaching out.
Just pick up the phone.
And call your Dad.