Father’s Day is approaching. I know because my wife asked me what I want for father’s day. My response was to ask “is that this or next Sunday?” Too often Father’s Day seems like an afterthought, and honestly that is fine, and seeing the physical and social pressures that are placed upon mothers in our culture, I honestly think we should do Mother’s Day at least twice a year--perhaps we add the 4th Sunday of Lent to align with Ireland and Nigeria. It is true that fathers on television have been generally portrayed as clowns and idiots, and often the butt of jokes, but being paid more than women and other perks of being male overrides this petty complaint of how fathers are portrayed in the media.
So what do we celebrate, besides our grills and hammocks, on this upcoming Sunday? Well I am not really sure, so I went to the Bible to get more confused. The fathers in the Hebrew Bible ranged greatly with some very questionable behaviors, and the Gospels did not shine more light on the subject, except for Joseph--a man willing to be a father to one born to his virgin wife. Talk about a step-dad stepping up, despite great cultural pressures to shun her. But Papa Joe was not featured during Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps he stayed at home to make some money or maybe he died, but we are certain he raised one fine man.
One thing Joseph does make clear: a father is not simply one that impregnates someone. Of course we know that, but what makes one a father?
I believe it is a loving one who aches when his child aches. What makes it different than a mother I don’t know, but I myself only know that of having parents and being a father.
In the almost seven years of being a father I may not have figured it all out, but I have figured out why Jesus’ best model of a father is termed the prodigal son, although to many are renaming it (I believe properly) as the forgiving father. My son has not asked for his inheritance (and if he should that would be a great laugh), nor has he prodigally spent money, but I have found great wisdom in this story.
I do not write simply of the forgiveness he displayed to the son that wasted money. I cannot imagine not being able to forgive my son and forgiving is definitely part of being a father. This generous forgiveness is certainly a metaphor for the Divine Father, for as Jesus says this is the nature of God’s perfection. However, when the feast is going on, the elder son returns from the field angry and jealous. This is exactly why I feel this scene with the elder son is where Jesus is hinting at us earthly fathers: this father just welcomed the other brother home with great compassion and celebration, should not the other son in a perfect family taken his father’s lead? Of course, it gets real with this rivalry and jealousy.
The father responds with, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours…” and this has become key for me. While I do not appreciate my bed being claimed at 1 am, I know it is not simply about the physical things that are his as well as mine, but all of me is accessible to him at all times even if he doesn’t realize it. We don’t know if the elder son went into the party understanding the love offered by the father, or stormed off in a huff (or a myriad of other options). But we know that the father understood that everything that was his was also his children’s, and it was given even before it was asked. It is not the son, it is father who loves like a mother hen, who teaches me about being a Papa.