My Father

I contemplated long and hard yesterday on the great gifts I have been given, the ways in which I have been blest by the men in my life who have worn the title “father”.  I decided that a Facebook post would not do for this, and so today sans concert I have the time to write out my thoughts and feelings.

I will start by saying that the man who is my biological father does not know that somewhere in the world he has a daughter and two of the most beautiful grandsons God could have given him.  He does not know this because I do not know who he is.  My biological mother does not know who he is because I was conceived when she was gang raped on a military base.  So the only thing I do know about my father is that his contribution to my life was made in an act of violence.  I am one of millions of children of rape.  I feel no shame.  I do not wear this proudly either, but it is a good reason not to seek out this person, who gave me half my genetic code, a part of which I passed on to my sons.

This man was the origination of my life, but there ends his part in the story for I was given another father.  Indeed I have been deeply blessed to be the child of a woman who found the courage to give me up for adoption to her parents.  The man to whom I gave Father’s Day cards, the man whom I grew up calling “Daddy”, and the man whose face I yearn to see at those poignant moments in life, was her father.  From the time I was 6 months old I lived in the home of my grandparents.  These two people became “Mama” and “Papa” because it is what they were to me.

And there were other men in my life over the years who bore the responsibilities of being a “father figure”.  My Godfather.  My step-father (the man whom my biological mother married when I was 3).  My father’s best friend, Walt Wheeler (who walked me down the aisle in my first marriage.)  And then there are the various male teachers I’ve had over the years who often take into their classrooms scores of female students and whether they know it or not, these men become father figures (particularly if they are men in the arts because the relationships in the music world tend to last over the years and deepen into friendships).

Men wield tremendous power in the world, and beyond the things listed by feminists, perhaps the greatest of their salutary and unasked for abilities is a power they are not always aware of.  The amount of respect and authority which is automatically a man’s in the cultures I was raised in means that when I looked at how men behaved towards each other, towards their peers, towards their inferiors and especially towards females I perceived the authoritarian gaze that the world turned on such people.  It is a power often forgotten or unmentioned because the scholarship on it is relatively young (younger than a century in most cases).  To understand the world through watching your father interact with it is to intercept the masculine gaze, to create a place of understanding for yourself of how the man you venerate with respect in your own gaze views the world.  It is a form of associative world-view and it is the first object a father passes on to his children.  Through this gaze which is not male-oriented, but oriented from the male, men teach their children to order their first views of the world.  I never got to ask Daddy what it meant to him to raise daughters and I feel that was an opportunity lost to me.  He died when I was 15 and so over the years there have been several times when I’ve thought of a question I wish I could desperately ask him just to hear the temperance of his mind again.  The word “father” is an old word.  It is descended from a long line of etymological heritage and it is just to give a day to all the men in this world who meet its description even if their daughters or sons were not born to them.

I am the daughter of a rapist who does not know that I exist.  I am also the daughter of a wise and loving man, raised in a very hard school, and who raised me in the autumn of his life as his own daughter, sheltered my sister and I, nurtured our gifts, and passed on his own in the time he had left to give them to us.  I am the daughter of many men who’ve touched my life over the years, and after a violent conception I have been given the grace of knowing at the hands of many other men kindness, gentleness, righteousness, love, peace, joy, patience, faith and obedience.  If you do not recognize that list, they are also known as “the fruits of the spirit.”

I close this blog with a story I love.  It was a story I am not certain my father had heard and my knowledge of it comes from a book called “The Desert Fathers”.  I paraphrase it here.

This story was told of John the Short, who was walking one day in the courtyard of the monastery with some of his brothers and their Abba.  He turned to their leader and said, “Abba, Father, please instruct us in the ways of obedience.”  So Abba looked about and seeing a stick upon the ground picked it up and stuck it upright into the ground.  He turned to John and replied, “Water this stick until it bears fruit, my son.”  John did as his father had bade him, walking each day under a blazing sun to fetch water from the well and returning long after night fall.  After three years the stick one day blossomed under his care, and when it bore fruit he picked the fruit and ran to his Abba with it.  Abba took the fruit handed it out amongst the brothers and said, “Take my children and eat of the fruits of obedience.”

Belatedly, a wonderful Father’s Day to all you out there who shepherd and nurture the fruits of the spirit in all the children of this world.  You truly deserve a day for all you do.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on June 22, 2015.

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