Treasured Memories Or Memories Laced With Pain?


Tomorrow is Father’s Day. For many adults it will be a time of thoughtful contemplation and memories associated to childhood. For some, the day will be filled with treasured memories of time-shared and the positive impact of a father’s love and involvement in their lives. For others, the day will trigger a sense of pain and disappointment that they missed what others find reason to celebrate.

In my quest to get to know people, I often ask about their story. Perhaps a part of it is a carry over from doing foster care and adoption studies on couples wanting children. In the process of conducting a home study, I always asked: “What do you (or did you) value most about your father?”

Sometimes I could discern the answer before they verbally shared their story. The “deer in the headlights” look on their faces made it clear that my question struck a raw nerve. Sadly, there are many adults who have the misfortune of growing up in homes where there was an absence of nurture and support from their father.

In Garrison Keillor’s book, We Are Still Married, he shares the story of the town’s baseball team. For lots of reasons, the team was named the Lake Wobegon Schroeders. Most of those reasons were the nine sons of E.J. Schroeder who were in the starting lineup.
Obviously E. J. loved baseball. After all, isn’t it the All American sport?

Keillor writes: “ E. J. was ticked off if one of his boys hit a bad pitch. He’d spit and curse and rail at him. And if a son hit a home run, E. J. would say: ‘Blind man coulda hit that one. Your gramma coulda put wood on that one. If a guy couldn’t hit that one out, there’d be something wrong with him I’d say. Wind practically took that one out of here, didn’t even need to hit it much.’ – then he would lean over and spit.

“So, his sons could never please him, and if they did, he forgot about it. Once, in a game against Freeport, his oldest boy, Edwin Jim, Jr., turned and ran to the center-field fence to try and catch a long, long, long fly ball. he threw his glove forty feet into the air to snag the ball and caught the ball and glove. When he turned toward the dugout to see if his dad had seen it, E. J. was on his feet clapping, but when he saw the boy look at him he immediately pretended he was swatting mosquitoes. That play was the third out of the inning. Jim, Jr. ran back to the bench and stood by his dad. E. J. sat chewing in silence and finally said: ‘I saw a man in Superior, Wisconsin, do that a long time ago. But he did it at night, and the ball was hit a lot harder.’

Can you imagine growing up in a household like that? At a very real level, children need their parent’s blessing and sense of support. Across 45 years of child welfare related work, I’ve got stories I could share. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the stories I have to share have nothing to do with my work. They are grounded in observations and bits and pieces of life stories that people have shared with me in the context of personal relationships.  They are stories from everyday life.

Interestingly, most people self-protectively choose not to share a lot, but when they do, it is simply because they cannot mask the pain of “never having gotten it right” from a parent’s perspective. Sometimes folks sharing their story continue to feel that somehow they were responsible for their father’s lack of interest or involvement in their lives.

I understand the concept of sibling rivalry, but generally that is time limited and one emerges into adulthood with a healthy relationship of siblings intact. I’ve known families where the father figuratively was threatened by the success of his children. Consequently, he always managed to malign or discount any achievements they accomplished. It is beyond me. I don’t get it, but it happens.

In his book Everybody’s Normal Until You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg asks the question: “Have you ever noticed how many messed-up families there are in Genesis?

  • Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him.
  • Lemech introduces polygamy to the world.
  • Noah – the most righteous man of his generation –gets drunk and curses his own grandson.
  • Abraham plays favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael, they’re estranged.
  • Isaac plays favorites between his sons Jacob and Esau; they’re bitter enemies for twenty years.
  • Their marriages are disasters – Abraham has sex with his wife’s servant, then sends her and their son off to the wilderness at his wife’s request
  • Isaac and Rebekah fight over which boy gets the blessing
  • Judah sleeps with his daughter-in-law when she disguises herself as a prostitute.
  • The list just goes on and on. These people need a therapist. They are not the Walton’s.”

In one of his books, Chuck Swindoll chronicles his memories from the vantage point of adulthood. He has an article entitled: “My Dad”  He writes this:  “My dad died last night. He left like he had lived. Quietly. Graciously. With dignity. Without demands or harsh words or even a frown, he surrender himself- a tired, frail, humble gentleman – into the waiting arms of his Savior. Death, selfish and cursed enemy of man, won another battle.

“As I stroked the hair from his forehead and kissed him goodbye, a hundred boyhood memories played around in my head.

  • When I learned to ride a bike, he was there.
  • When I wrestled with the multiplication table, his quick wit erased the hassle.
  • When I discovered the adventure of driving a car, he was near.
  • When I got my first job (delivering newspapers), he informed me how to increase my subscriptions and win the prize. It worked?
  • When I mentioned a young woman I had fallen in love with, he pulled me aside and talked straight about being responsible for her welfare and happiness.
  • When I did a hitch in the Marine Corps, the discipline I had learned from him made the transition easier”.

He then went on to chronicle the things he learned from his dad…everything from how to seine for shrimp. The importance of keeping your shoes shined, car polish, freshly mowed grass…. to having a deep love for America.

“Because a father impacts his family so permanently, I think I understand better than ever what the Scripture means when Paul wrote: ‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory’. (I Thess 2:11-12)  Swindoll concluded :“I will hear the nostalgic whine of a harmonica…held in the hands of the man who died last night…or did he? The memories are as fresh as this morning’s sunrise”.

What a legacy Chuck Swindoll’s father left behind. He obviously had figured out the reality that the only thing he had that was eternal was his children. How do we make investments in the lives of our children that kindle that level of gratitude and thanksgiving?

All My Best!





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