Hero: The Impact a Father Makes

Every son wants his father to be a hero.  I learned that lesson only recently when I discovered how desperately I wanted to respect and honor my own father, and how I wanted those blessings from him in return.  Fathers play a crucial part of our development, and when that formative responsibility crumbles, children are left to pick up the broken pieces and put them back together without knowing how they all fit.

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home.  My parents were loving and ensured that our family went to church every Sunday, participated in vacation Bible schools, and even had devotions before bedtime.  I looked forward to listening to my mother read from a children’s Bible, and then pray with us every night.  That was a special time for my brothers and I, and as the spiritual leader of our home, my mother taught us from elementary school how to pray and eventually to accept Jesus into our hearts.

My father was a believer.  He would join us sometimes, and he often carried a small Bible in his jacket pocket to read while at work.  Talking with him about Christianity, though, never carried the same authority as it did when I would ask my mother a question.  My dad knew the Bible, but I suspect he always doubted his salvation, or at the very least, questioned Christ’s ability to redeem him.

My dad is an extremely intelligent man, with two master’s degrees.  He can figure his way through an algebra problem, or analyze a chemical formula without difficulty.  After enlisting in the military, he traveled to many parts of the world, using his skills wherever he was stationed.  Soon after his service ended, he met my mother.  They married and started a family.  While growing up, my dad and brothers and I would play together, rough house after the nightly news, build cabins, hike in the woods, go to movies, and dream about the future.

Yet, I did not trust my father at all.

While in the military, my dad suffered a mental breakdown from the stress and had to leave under a medical discharge.  Throughout my childhood, my dad went through several more breakdowns.  He was diagnosed at the time as a manic-depressant, but whatever clinical definition they assigned to him meant nothing to me–it only meant that sometimes my dad didn’t act very much like my dad.

He would begin to slip into a breakdown every few years.  They began with a couple of symptoms, and within days would become progressively worse.  My dad’s breakdowns were characterized by his inability to sit still, laughing too loudly at things that were not really funny, smoking continuously, staying up all night, pacing back and forth, making irrational decisions, arguing with his family, and eventually becoming verbally abusive.

As a child, I was always sensitive to the behavior of others.  I witnessed these battles with mental illness, and they instilled a deep-seated mistrust and fear of my father in me.  I would catch myself watching him for any sign that he might be losing control.  I would count the cigarettes he smoked, to make sure they were not increasing in number–a sure sign of his stress level.  I watched his behavior around others, noting any odd or seemingly irrational responses.  My father ceased to be my dad, and instead became a man whom I longed to love, but felt detached from.

To make up this parental longing, I gravitated more toward my mother.  We became confidants and shared a lot of the pain as we watched my father’s breakdowns become more frequent.  I felt closer to my mother, and in return she gave me love out of her own pain.  Sometimes a son doesn’t need to know everything, but my mother told me more about my father than I ever should have known.  I became her emotional support, learning more and more about the man she married that I knew was my dad, but feeling less and less like he was someone I wanted as a father.

At about seven or eight years of age, I was exposed to pornography when my dad and I were hiking through he woods near our home, and happened upon a cabin built by some older boys in the neighborhood.  The magazines they had collected were dampened by rain, but my dad looked at them and allowed me to look too.  Somehow I knew it was wrong, but it was also fascinating and exciting to see these pictures of naked women.

Later in elementary school, someone gave my dad another magazine which my brothers and I found.  My parents soon learned about our discovery, and rather than take it from us, they gave it to us to keep.  They thought it would satisfy our curiosity, and keep us from wanting to look at pornography later, but unknowingly they were throwing gasoline on a fire.  We did not have the emotional foundation to understand the images we saw.  It created a stronger desire to seek out more porn.

Shortly before my parents separated and eventually divorced, my dad and a friend took my brothers and I on a camping trip near our home.  I remember it was a beautiful starry night in June, and I had just turned twelve.  My brothers had drifted off in their sleeping bags, and I law awake, admiring the stars, and praying to God while my dad and his friend sat talking around the campfire.  Before long, the innocence of the night was shattered when I realized that my dad and his friend were using drugs.  I could not believe what I was witnessing, and I prayed that it was just a nightmare.  The pain and fear of my dad’s breakdowns was horrible but justifiable–in my young mind I reasoned that they were beyond his control.  But here I was witnessing a deliberate act that betrayed every confidence I had in my father.  He was doing something that I had learned only “bad people” did.  Before my eyes, my dad had slipped from being a victim to a villain.

With this unstable foundation, I began seeking ways to meet my emotional needs from illegitimate sources.  I did not recognize my God-given need for masculine affirmation, but the inability to trust the very source of it in my life turned my longing to other men and in the process those needs became sexualized.  As my parents’ marriage crumbled, I subconsciously felt the need for a father figure in my life.  I found myself fantasizing about other boys in school, and even some of my male teachers.  I discovered gay pornography, and planned ways to sneak a peek at it whenever we went to a local book store or the truck-stop restaurant near our home that sold it.

Thus began the cycles of shame and guilt that have plagued much of my life.  As a Christian, I knew God did not want this for me.  Pornography was wrong; homosexuality was wrong–how could I love Jesus and allow this sin in my life?  I never identified myself as gay, I never wanted to wave a rainbow flag, or join the “lifestyle.”  My sin was my own, with nobody to talk to.  I felt close to God most of the time, but I could not reconcile that with my sexual feelings toward other men.  For years, I felt as if I was sitting on a fence.  On the one side was the gay lifestyle that I wanted no part of, yet could not deny my feelings for.  On the other side was a sincere Christian life that I imagined I could follow by giving up any hope of sexual fulfillment.  It seemed a lost battle with intense sadness no matter which choice I made.

Dating men provided little to reassure me that my feelings were okay.  The guilt of my sin became evident, and I ended several relationships on the basis of my religious convictions.  People tell themselves all kinds of lies to justify their actions, but the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart.  He spoke to mine, and no matter what momentary happiness I felt with another man, I knew the feeling would soon be replaced with that still, small voice whispering in my ear, “This is not what I have planned for you.”

I stopped trying to date men when I realized that the gay lifestyle could not satisfy my deepest longings.  Homosexuality is the outward symptom of a much deeper inner need.  I desperately yearned to be loved and approved by my father, but to whatever degree he could or could not give that to me, I pushed him away out of pain and fear.  My parents loved and cared for my brothers and I the best way they could, but their own limitations produced heartbreak and emotional anguish in my life.  It has been difficult to recognize their failures.  In many ways, they were loving parents who simply did not realize the impact of their behavior.

Sexual addiction to pornography became the spiritual battle ground of my life.  Acting out with other men became rare, but internet porn was readily available and as close as my home computer.  Pain feeds the cycle of addiction.  I felt lonely, I looked at porn, I felt guilty, I asked God to forgive me, I experienced low self-esteem, and as a result I felt lonelier than ever.  Sometimes boredom would propel me toward porn.  I would not even be thinking about it, but three clicks later on the computer, I would be in the midst of something I had no intention of looking at.  I wrestled with temptation.  “God,” I prayed, “You have helped me avoid so many sins in my life.  You have protected me, and I’ve se en how You watch over me.  Why can’t I give this addiction over to You?”  It becomes a daily battle to make right choices.  When we fall, we have to remember that we are not starting over from square one, with no victories to claim as our own.  When we fall, we pick ourselves up and start over exactly where we left off, perhaps a little wiser.

One Sunday I read in my church bulletin about a local group for men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction.  I was a nervous wreck as I slipped into the back of my first Exodus group meeting.  I was afraid someone might recognize me, or I would be asked to share my shameful past with everyone on my first night.  I have no doubt that God lead me to that group, and there I discovered that opening up to others helped bring a degree of victory to my life for the first time.  God did, in fact, have something better in mind for me.  I talked with other men and women who loved Jesus and struggled with their sexuality just as I did.  For the first time I felt a real sense of hope for healing in my life.

I cling to the promise of Philippians 1:6, which states that He who began this good work will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.  God has since brought a great deal of healing to me, which I recognize when I make right choices in the face of wrong ones.  Deciding not to glance at that guy jogging down the sidewalk, or go to certain websites is not always easy, but as I starve the addiction, I see God’s hand at work in my life.  I cannot do it without Him.  Too many times I tried and failed, promising I would never look at porn again, or making deals not to flirt with temptation.  Engaging in spiritual warfare forces us to acknowledge that the enemy is strong, but that God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can endure.  I hold to His promise, even as I take up my sword and shield daily.

Talking to a wise Christian counselor has taught me the value of seeking out Godly men for healthy relationships in my life. When we are weak and lonely, the enemy takes advantage of our condition to throw temptation our way.  I took a lot of courage, but when I shared my struggle with same-sex attraction and sexual addiction with a Christian friend, I discovered a brother who also faces his own daily battle against pornography.  We encourage each other, and honestly share our doubts and fears.  By doing so, God has strengthened our friendship to a much deeper level.  I am amazed to see how God can take our sin and shame, and create incredible blessings out of them.

One of the desires of my heart has always been to marry and start a family someday.  I am richly blessed to be married to a Christian woman who knows the worst things about me, yet loves me anyway, and I am a proud father of a precious little girl. We are all redeemed by His grace.  So many times I try to put God in a box, limiting what I think He can do.  But we serve a God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine.  There is a deep, abiding joy that comes when we walk uprightly.  I am far from perfect, but when we trust God with even a little, He uses it to change us for His glory.  I am finding that what I give up to God, comes back to me as blessing in the form of my heart’s desire, but even more so as a closer walk with my Heavenly Father.

As my own relationship with my father was strained, so too, I felt estranged in some ways from God.  Was He on my side?  Did He really love me? Could I trust Him?  Shortcomings in my relationship with my dad carried over to shape the ways I felt toward God.  Once I recognized that, I repented of my doubts.  I am learning to trust Him to provide for every aspect of my life, and even though He doesn’t always do the things we think would benefit us, He is always faithful to provide what is best.  Giving my desires and sexual addiction over to God doesn’t mean I am immediately cured of them, but it allows God to work in my life in ways I never could have thought possible.

I cannot change my past.  Years of emotional pain, hurt, fear, and mistrust do not disappear overnight.  My father made some poor choices in his life, and the consequences cost him the respect and admiration of his son.  Choosing to forgive him has not always been easy, but God released me from a lot of the pain and heartache.  I am learning what it means to allow God to father me, to trust Him with my deepest doubts, and recognize that His love brings healing that I could never find through illegitimate means.  I love my family despite their shortcomings, but it helps to remember that I am also an adopted son of my Father God.

One day a few years ago my dad called m e on the phone. He was crying, and in his grief he glimpsed how the failures in his life had impacted his family.  He asked for God’s forgiveness, and his family’s, and mine.  I have forgiven my dad and I’ve asked him to forgive me for the ways I have detached myself from him over the years. God’s mercy and grace demonstrate a love beyond our understanding.  God continues to bind up the hurt and the wounds in my family.  I am thankful when He allows me to see glimpses of the man my father was intended to be.

Every son needs his father to be a hero.