Reconciliation: A Journey Between Father & Son

The journey of reconciliation between father and son is long and arduous; fraught with frustration, tears, great sacrifice, driving hope, and a love that preservers.

(Dad and me circa 1988.)

From titles, substantial significance is drawn. Throughout my life, my father has held the title of Dad, Provider, Abusive Alcoholic, Monster, Encourager, Drinking Buddy, Friend, Roommate, and Dependent. As a child, I experienced horrors no kid should ever have to live through. Each night I earnestly prayed for my father to go to hell, while every day I longed for a meaningful relationship with the chimera I could not understand.

As I grew in understanding and stature, my father transformed as I transformed. With eyes to see the man beneath the monster, my heart and mind began to shift as I saw more and more of myself in him. For God had shown me the few short steps which separated his life from mine. While I’d like to say this insight instantly healed and propelled our relationship along the road of restoration, relational baggage accumulated over a lifetime is not easily discarded or relinquished. It’s as if there’s a part of us that longs to cling to the hurts which poison the soul.

One of the medicinal qualities of music is how it ministers to deep wounds. Growing up I always heard Cat’s In The Cradle on the radio, but I was either too young to understand it, or simply never took the time. To me, it was just a “feel good” song with a nice rolling melody. It wasn’t until a few years ago, in hearing it as an adult, when its dark profound truth pierced my marrow. If you do not know what the song is about, or if you have not listened to it in a while, I recommend you click here. In essence, it’s a song about a young boy who wants to spend time with his dad, but his dad never had time for him. As the son became a man and the dad an old man, the dad wanted to spend time with his son, but now it was the son who had no time for his father…and the cat’s in the cradle…

Why some moments are seared into the deepest recess of memory and others are lost in time, I will never know. However, around 9th grade, I remember asking my dad something I never asked before…if he wanted to play catch. He said no, and asked why I wanted to. To which I replied, “I don’t know. I’m just trying to bond with you like normal people.” “Normal”…whatever that means. I should have known our relationship was never destined to be normal.

Fast forward twenty years to today, where my father lives with me, is more or less house bound, and is primarily taken care of by me. In this environment, I see, feel, and experience the full story of Harry Chapin’s song. For as I go to work, I see a sadness in his eyes. When I return, said sadness is transmuted into resentment, jealousy, and animosity for the work I do at the prison, which manifest in vile verbal jeers, which is wonderful to come home to after a long, emotional day. In such moments of depletion, exhaustion, and attack, it can be easy to react in kind with hurtful visceral retorts which carry the spirit of “you weren’t there for me, why should I be here for you? I’m over this!” I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought that a half dozen times over the years since his stroke.

However, unlike the song, I am determined to achieve a happy ending, and to relentlessly pursue the mission God has placed within my heart. For ever since he had the stroke, and even sometime before, I knew personally taking care of him was not only the right thing to do, but was what I needed to do.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves fighting against who we should be fighting for. My dad is not the enemy. The person you love is not the enemy. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, what does arguing with the man accomplish? It is counter-productive to everything I’ve worked for and everything I hope and pray for…that he’d find true joy, peace, and a greater fullness and zest for life. That he’d be proud of me and understand the work I do, and that God would bring to completion the good work He begun within him many years ago.

(Walking with Dad. Then and now.)

As days turn to months, and months to years, the blessings of this journey and choice have not been missed. For the tender, sacred moments of “thank you,” “I appreciate all you do,” “I love you,” “drive safe,” “sleep tight,” “God bless you too,” “tell the men I say hi,” in addition to all the nonverbal moments we have shared as I lovingly honor and serve him, have been a balm and a fount of healing for wounds known and unknown alike.

It has been said, “the greater the call, the greater the challenge.” I know everything I do for my father day in, day out, is a great, mighty, and noble call. Thus, I should not be surprised when I encounter challenges, frustrations, negative attitudes, and spirits which seek to rob me of my joy and peace, and seek to compromise my Christian character. Given this understanding, it is my prayer that when my father pushes my buttons (the buttons he installed), that I would not react out of my flesh to his hateful, ornery, cantankerous disposition, but rather respond from a posture of a broken heart. That my response would be saturated with an attitude of sacrificial love; not in a way that makes me a doormat, but in a way which reflects the patient love Jesus has for him. That instead of becoming angry from the accumulation of latent micro-aggressions, that I would have the awareness to identify them as they arise, and immediately surrender them to God in prayer. I acknowledge none of this is possible without the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As I seek to abide in the Lord, may the growth of my ability to love well in the midst of challenging circumstances amalgamate with your prayers, all for the glory of God. I’m eternally grateful that while our earthly father’s may continuously miss the mark, that we have a Heavenly Father who is good, and perfect in all of his ways.

For your viewing pleasure, and for having a face to pray for, I leave you with the following portrait of my father. Taken last week, I believe it’s an honest, vulnerable capture of the soul within.

(Terry Buttery, April, 2020)