Tell Me About Your Father
I was thirteen years old when my father walked out of our front door for good, forever changing what the word ‘family’ meant to me. I can’t tell you much about the conversation that day. Often, details escape you in moments of distress. What I can tell you are the simple things. I can tell you where I was sitting when he told me he had found somebody else. I can remember the way the curtains were arranged as I peered out the window while the words “this will be better for everyone” rang through the air. As I watched my dad drive away from my bedroom window that day, all I knew was that everything was about to change.
“Tell me about your father.”
Fathers. I don’t know of many topics that evoke such emotion when they are brought up. When asked about someone’s father, three responses are typical.
The first response could be joy. A smile immediately comes across the face of the responder, and they start singing the praises of their father. They call them ‘dad’ or ‘papa’ because, well, why wouldn’t they? Another possible reaction is indifference. You might as well be talking about Fred the Mailman because the person you are asking has suppressed any and all emotions tied to their father. After all, it is much easier to suppress the difficult emotions than it is to deal with the difficult emotions. Lastly, you could get pure anger. A curt response or short answer with a look that says phrases that can’t be mentioned at church. Things get awkward. A fist might even start to ball up. You know you’ve struck a chord.
I spent over a decade hating my father. I couldn’t celebrate my friend’s relationship with his father. I could only mock it. Anytime someone even mentioned their father, I was quick with a sarcastic or rude remark. I would boil over when the topic came up. I simply couldn’t handle the fact that my family was broken. I couldn’t handle the fact that I was, in a sense, fatherless. I had no family to call my own.
“That’s My Boy”
As I look back, it is clear to me why I was so angry. When it comes to family, I was dealt a tough hand. In the hearts of every human being, they need one thing more than anything else: love. Pure, simple love. It has been that way ever since the beginning. The Lord created a safe, peaceful environment where Adam and Eve could experience the love of a Father day in and day out. But the fall messed that up, and we’ve been searching for the love of a Father ever since. Not only do we need love, but we need love presented in three key ways: attention, affirmation, and acceptance.
Attention says, “I want to be with you. You are worthy of my time and love.” Jesus was good at giving people attention. His presence alone changed the lives of many. Remember Zacchaeus? Jesus came over to his house, ate dinner with him for a few hours, and radically transformed his life.
Affirmation says, “You have what it takes to succeed and I believe in you.” It might sound something like God the Father’s words to Jesus at the River Jordan, “This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased.” If Jesus needed the affirmation of his Father, how much more do we? This world is a tough place to live. No one gets out unscathed. Affirmation is needed to fight the good fight and to stand back up when you get knocked down. God gave Jesus the “That’s my boy” and that gave Jesus all he needed.
Last, we’ve got acceptance. “I love you for you, not for what you do.” You belong here no matter what anyone else might say. Acceptance is not works-based. The Lord declared “this is my Son with whom I am well pleased” over Jesus before he started his ministry. Acceptance is identity-based. You are loved for who you are and whose you are, not for what you do or accomplish. You don’t have to earn your keep. You always have a spot at the table.
I want to know everything
When my dad left, he took a part of my heart with him. I spent the next fifteen years trying to fill that void. I looked for love, attention, affirmation, and acceptance, in all that this world had to offer. It’s like trying to quench your thirst with salt water. You think that it will give you what you need, but it only makes you more thirsty. To put it mildly, I was a mess. I was lost and searching for love in all the wrong places.
When I was 27 years old, the Lord used a mentor to walk me through the forgiveness process with my dad. My mentor showed me that the hate I was storing up in my heart towards my father was actually doing more damage to my own heart than to my father’s heart. One day, I decided to trade in anger and bitterness for grace and compassion. My heart began to soften as I took seriously the Bible’s teaching of “Honor your mother and father, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” It doesn’t say “Honor your mother and father if…”, it simply says “Honor your mother and father.” The choice was mine to make.
After years of not speaking, I called my father up one day out of the blue and asked him to lunch at a BBQ joint near San Antonio, Texas. To my surprise, he said he’d meet me. After some of the most awkward small talk you can imagine in the line to get our food, we sat down in a corner booth under a Coors Light neon bar sign. I wasted no time. I looked at my father right in the eyes and said, “I want to know everything about you.”
“If a boy grows up in a home with no one resembling a father figure, who will teach that boy to become a positive and productive man?”
My dad is a man’s man. A firefighter by trade, he isn’t one to share his emotions. I have seen him run into a burning building more times than I have seen him cry. He doesn’t open up or talk about his feelings. But for the first time in both of our lives, my father was authentic and vulnerable with me. He told me all about his childhood. About the abuse he took from his alcoholic father. He spoke of how he, as the oldest boy, shielded his mother and other siblings from his father’s rage. He shared with me that he pretty much raised himself and was on his own by the age of 16. By the time he was finishing his teenage years, my father took off for the Korean War to serve his country. He told me all about how he had to come home early because the mother of his child was strung out on drugs and was neglecting their child. As my father spoke of his childhood, he let on that he essentially had no father. He had no road map and no guide. He was figuring this thing called life out on the run. No one ever gave my father any love. No one ever said, “I want to be with you”, “I believe in you”, or “I love you” to my dad. It became apparent that day that my father had a significant void in his heart and was simply doing the best job he knew how in regards to filling that void. I could relate.
Chains Be Broken
After hearing my dad share his story, I went from seeing my dad as a jerk who ruined my family to a man who had never been taught how to be a father. I saw a man who was doing the best job he could. Ultimately, my father came to resemble his own father because no one taught him any other way. No one took him aside and said, “There is another way. Follow me and let’s figure it out.” That day, in a south Texas BBQ joint, I truly forgave my father and my life has never been the same since.
My father has hurt a lot of people in his life through his actions, but, in a strange way, it makes perfect sense why he would do the things that he did. He did them because his dad did them to him. And his father’s father before him did the same. The Bible shows us that God cares immensely about our family tree. It says that he “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” This is called generational sin, and it is alive and well today. Simply put, hurt people hurt people.
After lunch with my father, I walked back to my car and sat in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity. I wept tears of joy as I called my mentor to tell him the miracle that had just happened. I could tangibly feel chains of anger, hatred, and bitterness being torn off of my chest. I felt free. I felt like a new man. And those chains weren’t just my chains. They were the chains of my father, his father, and the generations of evil that came before him.
Generational Curse to Generational Blessing
I was well on my way to becoming just like my father until the Lord intervened in my life. Now I run a ministry, have a healthy marriage with two godly kids on the ground with one on the way, and I love the Lord Jesus Christ with all of my heart. I know who I am and whose I am. I am a son and I have a spot at the family table with my heavenly father. God the Father gives me the attention, affirmation, and acceptance that I need every moment of every day.
The Lord used me and my choice to forgive my dad to rewrite the story of my generational line. My sons will not know what it is like to grow up without a father figure around. My daughter will know she has value, worth and free rein to her daddy’s calendar. We are a family. Once a word that brought me tremendous pain and heartache, the word family now brings me inexpressible joy. My children will be loved well. They will be given plenty of attention, affirmation, and acceptance. They do not need to go look in this world to find love because our home will have more than they need. They even have a grandpa somewhere near San Antonio that loves them to the moon and back. Now that’s a crazy thought. The Lord restores and redeems. It is who he is.
So tell me about your father. If that question brings a smile to your face, go honor your father right now. Write him a letter. Call him on the phone. Tell that man how much he means to you. Celebrate the man that has done so much for you. You can never honor him enough.
For those of you who have indifference or anger towards your father, I beg you to bring the restoration of your relationship with your father to the top of your priority list. Yes, it will be hard. It will be awkward. But it will be so worth it. To you, your children, and your children’s children. There is freedom in forgiveness. I know some of our fathers have done unspeakable harm and pain to us and our families. I also know that it is exceedingly difficult to forgive someone when you are the victim and they are the ones who have done the wrong. “Shouldn’t they be the ones to want my forgiveness? They’re the adult here. They have to make the first move” is a song that the enemy loves to sing over anyone locked in the prison of unforgiveness. One of the best decisions I ever made was when I stopped focusing on all the things my father didn’t do for me and started zeroing in on all the good things about him. I stopped judging and started extending grace.
The gospel of Matthew says “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus knocks on your door today. He is asking you to honor and to forgive your father. Most of all, he is asking you to trust him. He is saying, “I am not like your dad. You can trust what I have for you is good. I love you for you. I am on your side. I am a good father and you can put your faith in me.” Honor. Forgiveness. Freedom. The choice is yours today. The Lord is not the only one who thinks you have what it takes to turn your generational curse into a generational blessing. You can do this. I believe in you. You have a spot at the table.
Zachary Garza Sr. - Founder and Executive Director of Forerunner Mentoring