Pivotal Roles

Parents have a rather pivotal role in our lives, don’t they?

For the truth is – good or bad, present or absent – our parents will have an immense impact on who we become in our lives. But how that comes about is, well, complicated.

Take me, for example. My father died when I was eight. I gained a dad (step-dad) when I was twelve, though I wasn’t ready to admit that until I was about seventeen. He died when I was thirty-one. But even from a young age there were countless other men who were in my life, guiding and shaping me. And there were plenty of women (including my mother) who were, at times, filling in on the “traditional male roles” along the way, too.

When my husband and I had children, after nearly a decade of marriage, I was the breadwinner and he was the stay-at-home parent. And now that he is gone, here I am, like my mother, partially filling in both sets of roles.

I bring all this up because looking ahead at this Sunday, I cringe for a few reasons.

First, I am dreading not having my beloved late husband here to celebrate on Sunday (no matter how big our party is on Saturday for that very different and exciting holiday).

Second, I have had issues with Father’s Day since I was nine years old and started not having a traditional father figure in-house. It is a holiday filled with complex and difficult emotions for me. And while I am so very grateful for all the wonderful men (and women) who fill so many of these roles in my life and my sons’ lives, I really, really kind of want to avoid it this year.

Third, I know how many other people have even worse issues with this holiday on Sunday because of far harder problems – be they abuse, neglect, or anything else that you can imagine. I know that a whole bunch of people think that we should hold up fatherhood as the pinnacle of being a man (much the way people think we should hold up motherhood as the pinnacle of being a woman), when there are plenty of people for whom that is a very hurtful concept on several levels. (I know my own husband hated those Father’s Days when we were trying to get pregnant and having trouble and during my miscarriage.) And I know that the church can be one of the worst offenders in not thinking through how to handle this holiday with kid gloves.

So, what am I saying other than that I am looking forward to a really difficult Sunday afternoon?

Being a parent is one of the most important jobs in the world. It is beautiful and terrifying from the moment your children enter your lives. And it is just downright difficult. Of course it deserves to be celebrated. As do all the people who help to shape us into the people we are – for no doubt there are countless individuals who come into our lives and fill the roles we need, whether they realize it or not. For all these and more, we do give thanks.

We also need to be mindful that remembering our parents is a messy business for many of us. And that remembering parents can also mean remembering lost spouses. Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day both bring with them a sea of emotion that require us to show immense amounts of grace and love in all that we do. We should also be mindful and thoughtful about remembering that while some may be overjoyed, others may be facing the shadowed valley.

More than anything, we need to give thanks for those who guide us and shape us in good and healthy ways every day – be they our parents or someone who has filled a similar pivotal role in our lives. For all these are incredible gifts from God. Connections that grow our ability to love more deeply, which is certainly our purpose in life, to love and be loved.

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