Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Spectrum of Fatherhood

I made a Facebook post on Fathers Day that caused quite a ruckus. Many who read the post either misunderstood what I said or didn't read what I said or disagreed with what I said or felt that what I said was entirely inappropriate for the day. One person took my words as an opportunity to lash out at me personally. That post has since been taken down but the sting lingers. 

Here is what I said: 

Wishing some of my friends a Happy You-Are-No-Longer-Under-the-Iron-Thumb-of-Your-Tyrant-Father Day! 

You know who you are. 😙

Here are some of the reactions I got: 

-I ruined Fathers Day for everyone else.

-I was making others feel guilty for posting positive things about their fathers.

-It is hard to be a father and we need to give fathers grace.

-Good fathers are so important for the functioning of society.

-Absent fathers are behind many mass shootings.

-Praise should be public and criticism should be private.

-I caused fathers to wonder if they are good dads or not. 

First, the primary audience of my post: I have a number of friends who grew up in the patriarchy movement. This is a movement that elevates the father to king and ruler supreme of his home and family. While some of these men may be very kind and can handle this level of absolute rule, other men use this as an opporunity to rule with an iron fist. Along with this patriarchy movement has come an especially odd thing called the Stay at Home Daughters movement. This movement views female offspring as possessions of their fathers. These girls are raised that their only function in life is to serve their fathers until their fathers hand them over to their husbands. The girl goes from the possession of one man to the possession of another. In addition, the only viable life option for these girls it to become a wife and mother, therefore homemaking is really her only needed skill in life. Therefore, no higher education is needed. I have friends who had to take college classes in secret because their fathers would not have allowed it. Most often these men hold control over their families, not only financially, but with threats of spiritual danger or doom should someone leave the fold. If this sounds like a cult, BINGO! 

I know women who have fought long and hard to get to a place of freedom. As you can imagine, Fathers Day is a hard day for these women. A kind, loving father is beyond their comprehension. Of course, there are guys who grew up under such structures as well who have their own issues with that system. I'm sure Fathers Day is a minefield for them as well. 

I also know plenty of people who grew up in families that weren't part of the patriarchy but where fathers were quite abusive in a variety of ways. They, too, may feel relief at not being under the control of these men. 

So, I wrote that post for these friends. An "I want to acknowledge and celebrate with you" post. In no way was a saying anything else. 

In no way did I say that all fathers are bad.

In no way did I say that it is wrong to post about fathers.

In no way did I say that fathers need to be perfect to be celebrated.

In no way did I say that fathers aren't important.

Anybody who has read anything else I have written knows just how strongly I feel about the role of fathers. Shoot, I preached an entire sermon on June 12 about the impact a father has on one's view of God. And on this very Fathers Day I posted a tribute to my own husband who was and is a kind and good father to our children. 

In reflecting on what caused all the ruckus, I boiled it down to a lack of spectrum thinking. We need to be able to see much of life, including fatherhood, along a spectrum. At one end is the perfect father who doesn't exist but who many may aspire to. At the other end is the tyrant: the abusive father who devoirs and destroys his children in any variety of ways, using them for his own ends. And in between are all the other fathers, working at various levels of effort with their individual temperaments and gifts and skills and ideas and saddled with their family histories and traumas and life experiences and particular circumstances. 

It is incredibly important to understand the spectrum lest we put everything into categories of black and white. When we see things in black and white, we ten interpret a mention of a tyrannical father as saying that fathers are bad or unnecessary and that the only way to not be a tyrannical father is to be a perfect one. That's just not true. 

For years I have walked alongside a number women who have been in abusive marriages. One thing they regularly run into is that, in trying to explain to others their situation, others will say, "Well, my husband and I had this problem and ......" or "Well, all marriages are hard....." or "Well, what on earth were you expecting???" and so on. Leslie Vernick, a therapist who specializes in working with people in destructive marriages has a wonderful article I regularly point people to. In this particular article she points out the difference between a Diffucult Marriage, a Disappointing Marriage, and a Destructive Marriage. And there is indeed a difference. A huge difference. If we refuse to acknowledge that difference then we will try to understand our friend trapped in abuse as being in our same situation of a difficult marriage and we will minimize the severity of the situation and try to thrust on this friend our own pat answers. We have to understand that marriages are on a spectrum from the very healthy to the horribly abusive. 

It is the same with families. 

It is the same with mothers.

It is the same with fathers.

If you don't understand this then it is time for you to do what I call "expanding your frame of reference." 

I expand my frame of reference by asking questions. By listening to people's life stories. By reading memoirs. By educating myself in a variety of ways. This is impportant so that when someone says, "My husband and I are having trouble in our marriage," I know to stop and ask questions and gently draw out what she is saying rather than offering a pat answer of what has worked for me. 

If you think that when I say "tyrant father" I am talking about some guy who wants so badly to love his children well but yelled at his kid out of fear or overreacted to a poorly cut lawn, then you don't know what a tyrant father is. 

If you think that my congratulating my friends for being out from under their tyrant fathers means that I'm demeaning the role of father, then you don't know what a tyrant father is. 

If you think that it is inappropriate for rejoicing with my friends at their hard-won freedom, then you don't know what a tyrant father is. 

If you can wrap your head around what the difference between all the other fathers out there and those fathers who use and abuse and rape and pillage and manipulate and maim and control and enforce and all, more often than not, in the name of God Almighty, then you should be thrilled, as I am, that those people who grew up trapped in such oppressive systems are finally free. 

I was trying, in my own imperfect way, to redeem this holiday for them with a nod to their freedom.


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