catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 15 :: 2009.07.17 — 2009.07.30


Fathers matter

I sat alone at the dining room table on this particular Sunday morning, breathing in the stillness of the new day. Light streamed through the large window by my chair. I cherish these mornings when I get up before my family, fully rested, ready to receive the day awake and aware. I noticed the book review that my wife recommended to me the day before. Being a father and fatherless, I was intrigued by the book’s title, To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up Without a Father. I didn’t read long before discovering that author Donald Miller was telling my story and little did I know what his words would evoke in me:

…in writing some thoughts about a father, or not having a father, I feel as though I am writing a book about a dragon or a troll under a bridge. For me a father is nothing more than a character in a fairy tale. And I know fathers are not like dragons in that fathers actually exist, but I don’t remember feeling that a father existed for me. I know they are real people. I have seen them on television, and sliding their arms around their women in grocery stores, and I have seen them in malls and in coffee shops, but these were characters in other people’s stories, and I never stopped to question why one of these characters wasn’t living in our house. I don’t say this out of self-pity, because in a way I don’t miss having a father any more than I miss having a dragon. But in another way, I find myself wondering if I missed out on something important.

I read the last two sentences of the paragraph and began to sob bitterly. My groans were guttural, coming from a deep, wounded place in me that longed for a father but didn’t know it. My father died when I was 14 and like Miller, I never missed not having a dad. In fact, even still, 30 years later, I felt like I got off easy by not having a dad. I never had  to defend myself against him when my views, desires or plans didn’t line up with what he wanted for me. I never had to learn how to relate to a dad man-to-man. And this was all just fine with me until Donald Miller told my story and I too began to wonder if I missed out on something important.

I cried for most of the day, not on the surface, but inside. My family didn’t know it and the folks at church were not aware of my grief, but by the end of the day my insides hurt and I was exhausted. That was the day I began to care about being fatherless.

In the days that followed I realized that my apathy toward fatherhood was not only directed at my own father, but toward fatherhood in general, and more specifically toward myself as father. The fact that I didn’t value fatherhood was suddenly unsettling. Fathers matter, I was beginning to believe.

The movement in my spirit toward caring about fatherhood was so striking that I wanted to do something with it, to mark it in some way. Years previously a friend told me about a Richard Rohr retreat he attended that was designed to awaken the spirituality of men through an initiation experience called the Men’s Rites of Passage. What little he told me was enough to pique my interest and tap into my existing desire to participate in such an initiation. I knew at once that the time was now; the student was ready, the teacher could appear.

There are about five offerings of the Men’s Rites of Passage in the U.S. each year. I attended one held at a 350-acre wildlife reserve in Minnesota. Here we were initiated into the universal spirit of man throughout all cultures and ages. We connected with the spirit of man in ourselves, in one another and in the Originator of our being. My own experience was one of feeling welcomed into the company of manhood for the first time in my life. 

The aching hunger in my soul for father has become my teacher. I don’t wonder any longer if, in being fatherless, I missed out on something important. I know it without a doubt.

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