I didn’t have my father for very long. He died at 60, when I was only 30 years old. When I think of him I remember as a child waiting for a tall, handsome man striding down the gangplank of a Canadian Navy ship to scoop me up in his arms, his dark blue uniform still scented with the exotic places he’d been. I felt a bit shy of him. Three months is long to be apart in a child’s time frame, but a few moments in his arms gave me back my beloved daddy.
He wasn’t an easy man to live with when he was home. Career driven, cycling through bouts of alcohol addiction, I never knew who would walk through the door; the sober father I loved, or the stranger resembling him, with slurred speech and stumbling step. Although his addiction brought pain to my family, I loved him fiercely. He represented strength and protection to me, in spite of his weaknesses. He loved me; imperfectly, but sincerely.
I believe my father’s flawed love was instrumental in my search for and discovery of God, my heavenly Father. Faith was not part of my upbringing, yet I hungered for something to believe in. As an adolescent I learned about a Father who was perfect, unchangeable and reachable. When I heard the story of how God sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die in my place so I could be reconciled to Him, my search was over. The father-love of God filled the empty places in my heart where my earthly father had failed.
Yet many of my father’s ways of loving me showed me God’s heart. He loved to give gifts, especially when he returned from an extended Navy voyage to distant countries. I still have some of those treasured gifts; a Chinese music box inlaid with mother of pearl, a fragrant sandalwood fan from Japan, a toy koala bear from Australia. My father knew how to give good gifts to his children.
When Jesus taught about prayer in Matthew 7, He used the illustration of fathers giving gifts to their children. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! ( Matthew 7:9-11 NIV)
No parent would respond to a hungry child with something injurious, like a stone instead of bread, or a snake instead of a fish. Parents are often foolishly indulgent, but God is all-wise; he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is good for His children. He would not call us to pray, then refuse to hear or give us what would be hurtful.
In the many years since my father has been gone, I have sifted how he parented me through the filter of God’s compassion and forgiveness. I have chosen to be thankful for the good and let go of the negative. Although he did not always fulfill his role well, he conveyed his deep love for me in many ways, and for that I am thankful. When I feel the ache in my heart of missing him still, I go to my heavenly Father to ask for His love to fill in those empty places. He is always faithful to give good gifts to those who ask Him.