This post is a part of the Dancing Jesus: Mentoring in the Church blog series that will be ongoing through the month of September. You can read about the series and view the schedule here. You can subscribe to all of the posts here.
To face death and life alone
Haunted by the face that was once one of our own.
Now, a disembodied cry hangs stranded—
Afloat on the howling wind,
No anchor to plant us amidst our growing strife,
No touch to give us feeling,
No breath to give us life.
Dad and I kept in touch a couple of times a year. I continued taking my obligatory visits to Austin every summer. But those visits were awkward. Like trying to catch up with someone that you never knew in the first place. My entire world was in Little Rock. My best friends, my little league baseball team—the Coyotes, my neighborhood pool, and the Putt-Putt golf course where I played video games every Saturday. How do you possibly share that with someone in a week?
Although I didn’t see him much, I never hated my dad, nor carried any hostility towards him. It’s not like I was bitter or angry. I wasn’t. I always liked being around him. But seeing him only once a year formed a callousness in me. His ongoing absence created a practiced indifference. Dad simply became a nonentity.
At t-ball games I secretly wished that he would show up and be proud. I wanted him to see me in my blue Coyotes uniform. But he missed my first game—and every game after that. He missed me riding a bike for the first time when I was five. He missed me when I split my head open on a brick and needed stitches. He missed me singing “Do Re Mi” in the school play. He missed the first bass that I caught in Lake Conway. He missed the book on planets that I wrote, illustrated and published in the Terry elementary school library. He missed my childhood altogether.
Although dad may be gone, the ghost of his influence faithfully remains. Like a graying apparition dancing along the edges of our vision. An unfocused image blurred by waking eyes that still hold the sleep of dawn.
“Dad is watching us,” we think, “and we must make him proud.” So we live our lives trying to prove ourselves to him. We chase after the corporate executive position. Push ourselves to be a better golfer. Drive the Jaguar. Live in the suburban sprawl. We strain ourselves for the more and the bigger. We will measure up, even if it kills us. We still think about dad at major life intersections, or after another accomplishment. We want his validation in those moments. We look to him in his presence and his absence wondering what would please him, what would make him proud.
Or we are hell-bent on never making him proud.
No matter who we turn out to be, we swear to be nothing like him. He is our most-hated and feared enemy. He is our dark shadow, our doppelganger. Not only do we reject him fully, we reject whatever vision we think he had for our lives, running at break-neck speed in the opposite direction. Our vengeance on him festers from our rejection of him and everything he stands for. So we carpetbomb his memory with hate and indifference, trying to forget him altogether.
Dad is gone. In our anger, we convince ourselves that we will never live for his ghost. But without realizing, we allow it to drive us all the same. The ghost reminds us who not to be, which defines the framework of who we are to be. Our identity is shaped by our defiance.
(Excerpt from John Sowers’ book Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story)
John Sowers is President of The Mentoring Project in Portland, Oregon. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to and graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. John’s first book, Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story is available now!