“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV)
As a father, I see this as my duty to our daughter. It is my responsibility to give her the knowledge, discipline and advice she needs to have a good life as well as a healthy, whole life.
In reflecting on how I was raised, I believe this is how my own father felt. Life was often hard in our house. As the child that was a “surprise” and much younger than my other siblings, I often felt alone. It didn’t help that my father would face medical issues when I was young that would change the dynamics of his world forever. With the challenges and woundings my father dealt with, I suffered much, and I don’t think he in any way rose to the challenge above.
There was no open communication in my house. I was struggling in many ways to understand who I was and who I was created to be. I sat in church, but didn’t understand God or what His plan for my life was to be. I was expected to be what my parents wanted me to be. I wanted to make my parents happy and not create waves, but I was confused about many things.
There was very little nurturing in my home. I don’t remember hugs or being told that I was loved. I am not saying it never happened, it just happened so sparingly that I was desperate for affection. I began at some point in my teens to look for some kind of emotional connection, but often found nothing but sadness and despair as it always seemed like I was not enough or couldn’t measure up to the expectations placed on me.
Sadly, during my high school years, I excelled at many things but couldn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. I wasn’t happy even though I was in the top of my class academically. I was the starting tight end of the varsity football team and pursued many other extra-curricular activities but still felt such a void inside.
I had rarely dated or pursued girls at my school. My dad had made it firmly clear that girls were not my priority. However, during the summer days leading into my senior year that all changed.
I met a girl, and tried to do and be everything the way I thought she wanted me to be. Against my father’s objections, we began to date.
I remember one night we went to the beach for a night out. It was a cool summer’s night, yet we heated up the car in lust-filled passion. On my 17th birthday, we had sex for the first time. It was not safe to talk about sex in my home. As messed up as this sounds, I thought sex was something I had to do as a man – like it was expected. This was a subject that was not safe to discuss with my dad. So sadly, I cared about having sex, not the girl it was with.
Whether she was “the one” or not was not relevant… I was enjoying my manhood. That was until one day, she confessed she was pregnant. Instantly, waves of fear washed over me. What was I going to do? What would my father do to me? What was going to happen to my future and her future? I was feeling alone and desired to simply cover up the problem.
This was a problem no teenager should have to deal with. Here I was trapped in one tense moment in life where people have two choices – rely on our own judgements or ask for help.
Unfortunately, I had a father that I did not trust for many reasons. He did not condone me dating, much less the sex he did not know I was having. Riddled in fear and shame, I decided I had to rely on my own decision, which was to cover up my mess. I didn’t talk about this with anyone.
I felt trapped because I didn’t want the baby, but I didn’t necessarily believe in abortion either. But I had no one to confide in. No one was there to help advise me. Therefore when she announced that she wanted to have an abortion, I didn’t fight her choice. I didn’t stand up for what I believed, nor did I support her at all. I left her alone to make this enormous decision, and I left her to deal with this all on her own.
Although I gave her the money, I had other priorities during the football season. On a Friday afternoon, my baby died while I played a high school football game. See I couldn’t miss practice or a game for fear of dad finding out. So I dumped all of this on her and felt relief that she took care of the problem. I only wanted to save my own skin as I was riddled in fear.
I have spent a large portion of my life filled with guilt and shame. When my wife and I struggled to have a baby and suffered through a bunch of miscarriages, I truly believed that this was my punishment for the dirty secret hidden in my past.
There’s lots of freedom that has had to come from this painful time in my life, but one lie that I believed was that because of the relationship I had with my dad, I had no authority to turn to in my distress. I felt lost and alone.
I had been in church all my life, but I will admit that I had let the relationship with my earthly dad define how I saw God the Father. I didn’t see him as loving, but I saw him as the same unloving distant, punishing dad. But sadly that was just not true.
I would hit the age of 40 before I would finally discover the truth… the truth explained in 2 Corinthians 1:3. God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also my Father… is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
I am still to this day wrapping my head around the unconditional love God the Father has for me. As I grew up thinking that my dad’s love was conditional on so many things.
But honestly, I’ve had a rough time even accepting that I have two fathers. I have an earthly father, whose job it was to guide me and point the way for me to accept and get to know who I am in Christ as well as a heavenly Father who comforts me, consoles me, protects me, provides for me and loves me no matter what.
I wish I had understood at 17 years old, that if my earthly father was not going to or able to guide me, my heavenly Father could and would do it. For Jesus said, “… If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him,” (John 14:23 KJV).
I wasn’t getting what I needed at home. I didn’t receive what I needed from God sitting in the pews of my Catholic church, nor did I get the emotional fulfillment I desired from the girl I was sleeping with. But I was getting filled with a lot of lies… lies I believed because there was no one else showing me a better way. Sadly Satan devoured my relationship with my father, my virginity, my child and me. Why? Because the devil “…was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not the truth, because there is no truth in him…He is a liar, and the father of it,” (John 8:44 KJV).
See Satan is the father of lies, and even though I felt I followed no father at all, I listened to, believed and sadly followed the father of lies. I was convinced in my sin that it was easier not to deal with the pain in my home, to make my own poor choices, to lie, cover it up and deflect when those choices bit me. I learned at a young age that I didn’t have to take responsibility for my life or my choices. It would be costly to tell the truth and deal with an issue, so I grew to be passive aggressive and manipulative. This way of living would have devastating effects – costing me one marriage and nearly costing me my second. Luckily, I was able to seek help and get some much-needed freedom to save the family I now hold so dear.
As I dedicated time to build a stronger relationship with God, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I am thankful to have such a forgiving, loving Father who has given me the grace and mercy necessary to lay down my past and reshape my future.
I didn’t start out being a good father to the one child I have. I used to wonder what will my daughter think of me when she reflects on Proverbs 22:6 and compare it to the way I loved her. I knew I cared for my child but wasn’t sure I really loved her or not those first several years. I wasted time scared I was doing everything wrong or living in the anxiety that I’d end up like my dad.
God is so faithful and mighty to save. I’ve moved past the past. I’ve forgiven my dad, myself and released my guilt and shame. I am still working on letting go of the passivity by actively seeking to be present and involved with my daughter. I’ve learned to love unconditionally using God as my model as well as to be the kind of parent that will allow my daughter to thrive in who God created her to be. I imagine this to be the way my dad had wanted to parent me.
I can’t look backward as God encourages us to move forward. The past is gone. I’ve done all I can to repent and let go of the painful parts of my past that set me up for failure. But, t9here’s still one desire that remains for me: I look forward to the day I hold the hand of the child I loved, yet never met.
Did you struggle in your childhood in a dysfunctional relationship with one or both of your parents? Difficult relationships with parents can cause emotional wounds that can hinder our ability to develop a healthy identity and cause us to view God in ways that conflict with His true nature and character. If you struggle to feel a sense of belonging, have difficulty in making decisions or taking initiative, have a rough time receiving love or even compliments from others, or feel rejected often, maybe its time for you to pray and consider doing the following:
- Recognize and repent of any bitterness, grudges, resentments, anger or hatred towards one or both of your parents.
- Ask God for his forgiveness and accept His forgiveness.
- Invite Him to heal the hurts and wounds of your past and be open to receiving the unconditional love your Father has for you.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to begin to speak to you about your identity in Christ.
- Give thanks and praise for the work God is doing and will continue to do in your heart.
- Begin learning how to take the destructive thoughts captive and form new thoughts about God in order to replace Satan’s lies with God’s truth.
- Enjoy the freedom that comes from soaking in your true Father’s love.
Want to learn more about the Father’s love? Click here to listen to a powerful message from Senior Pastor John Aldridge of Son Rise Church and ministries.
About the guest author
Scott Slater grew up as the last of five children in a military family. Scott spent most of his formative years trying to understand his identity in God. Twice, he almost joined the priesthood, both from high school and college, but could not reconcile his deep desire for a family.
After 10 years of wandering through a failed marriage and broken relationships, Scott met his wife, Kimberly. With God by their side, they built a family despite many attacks on their marriage and the devastating loss of many unborn children. Through faith in Christ and the healing of his broken heart, Scott delights in the Word of God and enjoys delivering that message to those who open their hearts.
Scott has spent time as a men’s mentor and member of the alter team at Gateway Church. Scott resides in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, with his beautiful wife, 6-year-old daughter and three rescued shelter dogs.