I think I have shared here in the past and in greater detail in my book that my father was not the greatest guy in the world. He was an atheist, alcoholic, womanizing, con-man felon who caused my sisters and I no end of trouble. His poor decision-making got us evicted from our home multiple times, placed in foster care multiple times, kicked out of college, placed in debt, and damaged both emotionally and spiritually. That’s not to mention the neglect and abuse which isn’t worth going into.
As a 51-year-old man (I didn’t say adult because my wife might argue with that!), I was thinking this morning what I would ask my father if I could go back to when he was my age. It’s impossible to do in that he passed away 11 years ago, but I thought I’d blog about it this morning not just for myself but for others who may have a similar background as mine.
My first question for my father would be this: “What in the heck were you thinking?”
My father made so many bad decisions with consequences that were devastating to both he and his family that it makes me wonder what possibly could have been going through his thick skull to make such dumb choices! There had to be some kind of flawed reasoning in his head – he wasn’t a dumb guy, in fact most who met him found him charismatic and quite bright. But his actions said something quite different.
Then I would get specific with the questions. Things like these:
“Why wouldn’t you get a job and just work for a living?”
“What happened in your life that caused you to be a fifth-a-night functional alcoholic and why didn’t you get help?”
“What’s the deal with all the women? Do you have a problem?”
“Why do you just use people?”
“Do you like going to jail?”
“Do you realize the impact your decisions have on other people such as your kids?”
“How can you say you care about people and then do things that adversely affect them?”
“Why are you so self-absorbed and selfish?”
I’d save the most important question for last:
“Why are you so angry about a God you say doesn’t exist?”
Now that I am middle-aged there are parts of these questions to which I know the answers. I can see through my older and more mature eyes why someone would do what my father did – especially someone who doesn’t believe in God. However, there are still parts that simply defy explanation and I doubt my dad would be able to explain it either.
Here’s what I do understand: Without God in your life you are not responsible to anything bigger than yourself so you feel as If you can do whatever you want to do. And so long as you’re willing to pay the price for the consequences of your actions, you live as you choose. Put another way, it’s a risk reward kind of thing. My father was willing to take huge risks based on the potential rewards even though those risks had really bad consequences because he was willing to accept those consequences for himself and others.
And it didn’t matter that the other people hurt in the process had no choice in taking those risks and suffering those consequences, my father felt himself smart enough, prideful enough, arrogant enough, and honestly detached enough to make those decisions for them as well.
I never talked much with my father about my faith in Jesus Christ. When I did he would get defiant and make all those idiot statements fools make about God. It just didn’t seem worth it. I did give him a Bible at one point when he was dying and told him, “Just in case you change your mind.” But I didn’t really give him many chances to do so.
In fact, I remember when he was on his last legs my sisters and I were at the hospital and one of my sisters motioned for me to come into the room and pretty much say my last words to him. I declined. My dad and I had made peace over beers at a bar one night and I figured that status quo was enough. I probably should have shared Jesus with him one last time.
If you look at the questions I would ask my dad you can see that one would not have to ask a father these questions if that father was following Jesus. And that is the real point of this blog. It MATTERS if you are a follower of Jesus or not!
As a middle-aged man I get my father a lot more than I did when I was in my 20s. He makes much more sense to me now that I face the daily pressures of life at this age and with this much mileage. I also know that I could be a lot like my father if it were not for Jesus in my life. In fact, I could see myself following many of his paths if I believed as he did that there was no God to whom I was accountable.
I think my dad was so angry at God for several reasons. First, I think he didn’t like the idea of being told what to do, which must have gone back to being the youngest of four sons and how he was treated along the way. Second, I think he had a tough childhood and didn’t see God’s love for him played out so he must have felt God was not there for him. Third, he was raised a Jew and never was taught about Jesus who died for him so that he could have the gift of grace. Fourth, he had an inferior complex and I think the idea of God made him feel even less worthy instead of fulfilled because my father didn’t understand proper theology. And five, my father knew right from wrong but chose wrong because it was his way of giving the middle finger to God.
What has always bothered me about all this, though, was his blatant disregard for how his actions affected others. It’s one thing to be a fool and suffer the consequences for your foolish actions. If you reap what you sow good for you! But when your actions so adversely affect others – especially the children you are responsible to raise and nurture – something must be seriously wrong with you if you just don’t care. So on top of all the other things, I think my dad had some kind of malfunction in his life where he couldn’t actually care about others – and again, that’s a spiritual issue.
Now I’m not saying that every non-believer is going to be like my dad – I think he’s more of an extreme case. But I am saying that every non-believer has the potential to be like my dad because of the issues I’ve identified:
- Not believing in anything bigger than yourself
- Not submitting to the moral laws of God
- Not loving others the way you love yourself
- Not discerning right from wrong
- Not caring if your consequences affect other people
- Being self-absorbed and selfish
- Being Narcissistic
- Not dealing with your pain appropriately
As believers we fall under a different set of rules and conditions. Had my father accepted Jesus into his life during his life he most likely would not have suffered the imprisonments, failures, and disappointments he did. Had he been a believer he would have:
- Loved God
- Loved others
- Loved his children and cared for them sacrificially
- Obeyed God’s laws
- Obeyed man’s laws
- Taken the right path even though it was harder
- Been truthful and forthright
- Would think before acting and make appropriate choices
That said what I’m not saying is that life would have been unicorns and ice cream cones if he were a follower. We still may have been poor and had trouble; life is hard and perhaps we would still have had difficulties. But we wouldn’t have been damaged the way we were had my dad submitted himself to the Lord.
There is a happy ending to this story. God uses all things for the good who love Him and He did in this case too. My eldest sister is a believer and a semi-retired nurse who does medical missionary work in the Amazon. My next sister is a believer who has had a hard life but one where she is able to shine Christ’s light through her difficulties. My last sister also is a believer who was able to make a “normal” life out of the chaos that was our childhood. All three of my sisters have kids of their own and grandkids. Most are believers.
As for my dad, I don’t know if he ever opened that Bible I gave him. However, it was on his coffee table in his apartment when he died. Perhaps, just perhaps in his last desperate hours before landing back in the hospital he wrestled with God. I hope so, because my father is a cautionary tale for men who don’t want to submit to God and how terribly your life can go for you and the ones you love when you think the world begins and ends with you.
Thoughtful and, as awlays, well written. A cautionary tale for us all indeed.