Heroes & Other Miracles
Father's Day Reflection
2005 by Jim Robinson
Day is nearing. And I have been thinking about my own father,
back when I was young.
was cool, my dad. He could belch like thunder. He could take
a blade of grass, and holding it in some secret way between
his thumbs and blowing into cupped hands, create his screeching
“peacock mating call” whistle that could be heard
for blocks. To me, he was Captain America—human, yet
was funny and smart, strong but sensitive. Watching him interact
with his friends always gave me a warm feeling of pride, because
I saw him as a balanced blend of things: intelligent but humble,
as interested in things scientific and artistic as he was
in duck hunting and sports, comfortable with all sorts of
different personalities. I can feel and see him in myself
now—the way I use humor to disarm people, my tendency
to be goofy one moment and serious the next, my external ease
with people from all walks of life. He taught me that there
is nothing mutually exclusive about appreciating fancy big
city dining one meal and good barbecue the next. I was never
more proud than when he and I would sit together on a Sunday
afternoon, watching football on TV, eating sardines and Vienna
sausages and saltine crackers. It took me a while to get used
to the sardines, but Dad loved them and I was determined to
love them, too. It was a very special time, downstairs in
the den, just the two of us, eating guy food and talking guy
talk. Those were good days, there together, the burnished
gold shadows of fall coming through the windows, me and my
dad, Big Jim and Little Jim, laughing and eating sardines.
day he took me to get a flat-top hair cut, just like his,
at Tater’s Barber Shop on the Court Square. We sat side
by side in the only two barber chairs in our small Tennessee
town, the sun streaming in, the smell of soap and blue antiseptic
and cigar smoke making me feel very important.
‘bout the full treatment, Tater?” Dad said. “For
both of us.” My chest swelled as I had my first “shave”—big,
bald Tater wrapping steaming hot towels over my face, then
the warm creamy lather, masterfully whisking it away with
the dull side of a straight razor.
red-faced and reborn, I marveled as the buzzing thing in his
hand transformed me into a small version of my father. Soon
the two of us had short hair sticking straight up, gooey with
we were done, Dad picked me up and held our faces close together
in front of the mirror. I felt proud beyond words.
remember so many things about my father. But, oddly, I don’t
recall his ever being angry. He could get frustrated, of course.
And his booming voice would immediately throttle my sisters
and me, and make us obey. But I never saw him truly angry,
as if he had lost control. Or sad, for that matter. And we
rarely if ever had any sort of serious father-son talk about
things. He seemed uncomfortable and ill-equipped to enter
into anything intimate. I don’t know if anger and intimacy
and sadness were emotions that had been forbidden him since
childhood, or if over time it had become something he forbade
himself. Maybe it was a part of him he just never let us see.
I realize now that in many ways I did not know him. There
was a secret silence separating us. I’m not at all sure
what some of my father’s dreams were back then. But
I know that at least some of them never came true.
my work as a counselor, I have come to believe that I am far
from alone in this feeling of some missing piece regarding
relationship with my father. Normative male alexithymia
is newest psycho-babble phrase used to explain such an
inexplicable thing. Taken from the Greek, the term has to
do with a male’s inability to put emotions into words.
At least once a week, some father or son comes into my office—sometimes
aware of the source of his hurting and sometimes not—seeking
an unknown something that has been missing from his relationship.
Because even though some of us while growing up handle it
with apparently less trauma than others, we all nonetheless
live in an environment in which a male gender socialization
process teaches us to restrict our emotions, limit our feelings,
and curb any vulnerability. “Be strong,” we are
told. “Be tough.” Many fathers, often duplicating
the way in which their own fathers instructed them, attempt
to equip us with a sort of emotionless shield to life, and
in so doing send us on a life journey in which we commonly
mistake stoicism for strength.
are designed by God, I believe, to discover Him first through
our parents. As infants, our parents represent our physical,
emotional, and spiritual universe, reflecting onto us our
earliest precognitive and pre-autonomous images—how
safe is my world? What is trust and truth, comfort and consistency,
warmth and wisdom? Sons and daughters look to each parent
for specific needs; for sons, fathers are our heroes. In a
spiritual sense, our parents represent our first impression
my mother began growing more and more emotionally ill and
unstable with her bipolar disorder and drug addiction, my
sisters and I huddled in our separate fears and waited for
Dad to come and rescue us. But because he had never learned
how to connect with his children on any sort of intimate level,
my father grew more and more withdrawn, always trying to shield
us, I think, and himself, unwittingly teaching us that feelings
couldn’t hurt us if we kept them secret and hidden.
Still, I wanted him to save us, to arrive like Captain America
and somehow put a stop to the madness. We sat at the dinner
table, staring at our plates, withered by the barrage of hateful,
shaming words, so that after a while we couldn’t really
hear them anymore. Slump-shouldered, we wilted under the weight
of it all, waiting to run. I tuned out my mother’s voice,
and waited for Dad to come to the rescue. But he didn’t.
ran. I dug deeper into my bedroom, my stereo, my books, my
band…and ultimately into a self-destructive journey
through a dark world of alcoholism and addiction. My mother
was destined for an early, tragic death by intentionally overdosing
on pills and booze. I turned from it all, horrified, and ran.
I had over time come to believe, deep within some little boy
place in me, that God would not save me. And for a long while
I sought solace in everything but Him, the One waiting
patiently for my return.
all our earthly heroes fail us. Even fathers are only human.
And knowing this, God took on flesh and came to us as a fully
man, fully divine manifestation of relationship. Personifying
intimacy, Christ Jesus offers what each of us from the very
beginning has longed for. Our souls hunger and thirst. For
Him. Nothing else can satisfy.
years ago, homeless and hopeless, this prodigal finally turned
for home. And my sweet Lord, in His unfathomable way, welcomed
me into His arms. In the years of healing that followed, my
Heavenly father led me back into the arms of my earthly father,
too. Through the eyes of Christ, I finally saw my dad as someone
who had done his best to protect his children from pain, a
husband and dad who had loved us with all of his broken heart,
and had tried to shield us in the only way he knew how. Over
time, he and I would slowly forgive each other’s mistakes,
silently acknowledging our separate abandonment, putting away
the unspoken resentments and allowing one another to be human,
to be broken, to say that we loved each other, and in some
wordless way to become father and son once more. I could look
up to him again, to see him as a sort of flawed hero, wounded
and far from perfect—like me, like all of us—but
my hero just the same. Like Captain America.
go back there now, and spend time with my father. I’m
not afraid of it anymore. I take my new family, and we visit
people we love. We eat fried catfish and hush puppies. We
visit the cemetery, and say prayers together. And on lazy
afternoons with the wind rustling through the tops of giant
oaks, I sit with my father and look out over the river, the
blackbirds swirling dark over our heads like a storm, then
we will be having a birthday party in my home. My own son
was born six years ago…on Father’s Day. As someone
who has by God’s grace survived my own dark death, I
will sit and watch and wonder. The healing hand of Jesus knows
no bounds. Unfettered by time, He waits. For each of us. This
astonishing truth can never be fully understood, at least
by us mere humans. But Jesus Christ lives inside us with an
intimacy beyond our comprehension. Tonight, I will stand and
stare at the stars. And I will celebrate the heavens and the
earth, God and man, father and son. I will blink back tears,
and give Him praise. How amazing indeed that the Creator of
the galaxies—He who could be any thing, any time, any
place—would through Jesus Christ choose to reside within
the human heart. And through Christ alone, we can finally
find the courage to reach out by reaching in, and touch the
Father that we perhaps never knew.