Honoring Your FatherKen Canfield, Ph.D.
April 30, 2007
On Father's Day you may get another "interesting" tie, the latest golf gadget or a pair of wild boxer shorts. And then your kids may do something that really makes you feel like a king. Soak it all in, because you deserve it and it's good for your children to honor you.
But as you're celebrating, don't forget that you're also a son, and it's good for you to honor your father or father figure.
There is something in us-written on our hearts-that says, "Honor your father and mother." That's how it's stated in the Bible, but you'll find it in all the world's religions. Ancient Chinese Analects advise, "Surely proper behavior to parents and elder brothers is the [tree] trunk of goodness."
Your father deserves your honor and appreciation for all he means to you-if for no other reason than simply that he is your father. If you feel that he has failed you, honoring him doesn't mean endorsing his irresponsibility, workaholism or abuse; you're not denying what he did wrong or the pain he caused you. Instead, you're choosing to place great value on your relationship with him, recognizing the good he has done and taking initiative to improve the relationship.
Dishonor toward a father is a dangerous form of vandalism. That is true culturally, but also personally. Gordon Dalbey writes, "We had better teach our sons mercy. A man who curses his father ... curses his own manhood."
If you want your children to honor you, model it by honoring your father on Father's Day and all year.
Honoring Dad is no problem for some men. Honor flows forth whenever they're with their dad. It's unmistakable in the scribbled notes on Father's Day cards and other written correspondence. It's evident in their tone of voice every time they talk to him, and in their efforts to keep in touch and continue a close relationship. For others, it won't be that easy.
If you want to honor your father but don't know where to begin, one suggestion from Dennis Rainey's book The Tribute is to make a list of memories related to your father. (If that relationship involves a lot of pain or abuse, you'd be wise to go through this process with help from a competent counselor. You may have some healing to do before honoring your father is possible.)
What kinds of memories can you conjure up that will help you honor your dad? What was your favorite vacation? What did you enjoy doing with your dad? What smells and sounds remind you of him? Was there a favorite book he read to you or a song you sang together? What was your favorite family tradition?
What do you remember about your dad's place of work? What were his hobbies? What did he encourage you to be involved in? Did he ever coach you or teach you a skill? What is your funniest memory with your dad or with your family? Think about birthdays and holidays, and memorable gifts he gave you.
What did people in the community think of your dad? What sacrifices did he make for you? Which of his character qualities do you now see in yourself? What was the greatest life lesson you learned from him? What did he teach you about being a father?
These positive memories should provide plenty of ammunition to barrage your dad with expressions of honor and blessing. Now, how can you turn them into father-honoring actions? Here are a few ideas (again, from Dennis Rainey's helpful book):
- Write a letter thanking your father for all he's done and all he means to you. Read it in front of him and the whole family. Frame it, and add photos and other mementos that will make it special.
- Buy a small book of blank pages and write one item you're thankful for on each page: "Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to throw a curveball." "Thanks for the evenings playing chess together on the front porch." Send the book to other siblings so everyone can contribute, then present it to him for Father's Day or on some other special occasion.
- Do a "This Is Your Life" presentation for him, where family members and old friends contribute memories by letter, audio or video tape. Visit locations that are important to him; write a script that incorporates all the stories and gives people who are present opportunities to share what he means to them. Record the entire event on video.
- If you're musical, creative, or just proud of your dad, write and/or perform a song in his honor.
Just use your natural gifts and creativity, and set your heart toward honoring your father.
As human beings, all fathers fall short of the original design for fathers. Some fall far short. Absent fathers, abusive fathers, critical fathers-they all fall short. We have no control over that. We can, however, control our response to our fathers. We can choose to forgive.
Some might say, "Forgive him? After how badly he hurt me? I'll never forgive him for what he did." Strong emotions seem justified for many men.
Forgiveness faces the facts (with all their pain) and then consciously decides not to hold those actions against him. In forgiving, you remove the tie between past actions and present relationship.
Forgiveness is not dependent on your father's repentance or response. When you forgive him, you no longer demand from him what he has proven he is incapable or unwilling to give.
Through forgiveness, you gain freedom and power-important assets in your own success as a dad. Your father's actions no longer determine your emotions, thoughts and behavior. You're able to see him as real, vulnerable, and not so different from you. Maybe his father was absent or uninvolved; maybe your dad faced many of the same fears and frustrations in his fathering. Forgiving him helps you see him as a man who needs your mercy, respect, and honor.
Honoring your father by engaging him in relationship can be a challenging enterprise if you've had to overcome painful memories with him. But in doing so, you claim-or reclaim-ownership of the relationship and convey that, "Yes, Dad, you are important to me." You acknowledge his powerful influence-an important step toward honoring him.
As two adults, your relationship will be more of a friendship than it's ever been. You'll make effort to stay in touch and go out of your way to include him in family activities. You'll both affirm and esteem one another and look for common interests you can develop and share together. As time passes, your dad may depend on you more and more, whether it's helping with heavy lifting around the house or, as he ages, driving him to doctor's appointments, helping with financial burdens, or even assuming full responsibility for his care.
But the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.
INVOLVE HIM AS A GRANDDAD
Your father probably has a childlike wonder when it comes to his grandkids, and he is honored when you encourage him to be involved in their lives.
He possesses a certain magic that's unique to granddads, and it serves as an important part of instilling a sense of family: hosting holiday gatherings, teaching your daughter that trick where it looks like he's pulling his thumb in two, or showing your son his old pocket knife, worn smooth from years in his overalls. His attic is full of treasures. He's lived through wars, hard times, cultural changes, and even your childhood.
Grandfathers can be powerful influences in a child's life when we encourage them to be. It's been said that "when an old person dies, a library burns down." Be sure your children visit that library often while they can.
You can also honor him by telling your children about him-how he lived as a child and a young man, what he has accomplished in his life, and his qualities as a father. (This one works even if your father has passed away.) Talk about the values you learned that you hope remain in the family for generations to come. Get out old photos and other mementos of the past to stimulate your child's questions and your own memories.
It is your father's deep desire to pass on something positive-skills, values and traditions-to the coming generation. In a culture where he may feel "in the way" or "out of touch," you can honor him by affirming the vital contribution he can make to your life and the lives of your children.