Father’s Day: A Day for Honor and Honesty

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and we know that our emotional experience of the day can run the gamut: joyful nostalgia, aching desire, anger, grief—so much is wrapped up in this day because so much is wrapped up in our relationships with our fathers. Here, Jay Stringer, a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister, writes about the crucial connection between honesty and honor, reminding us that to truly honor our fathers, and ourselves, we must be honest about their impact on our lives.

Father’s Day. For many, the day will be accompanied with grief as our fathers have passed or are no longer involved in our lives. Others will scramble to find the right gift or card. Most of us will make a phone call or send a text thanking our dads for the role they played in our life. While this day is reserved as a time to honor our dads, it can also feel so empty because one critical ingredient is often missing in our relationship with them: honesty.

The relationship we have with our fathers can be where we experience some of the most glorious moments of life. But if we are honest, it also contains the painful moments we will spend a lifetime attempting to heal. Our dads will go on to shape not only our understanding of ourselves, but also of God. As author William Paul Young puts it, “It took me all of fifty years to completely wipe the face of my father off the face of God.”

This got me thinking. How does the Bible address the need to honor our fathers, while also permitting, if not encouraging us to be honest about the negative impact they have on our lives?

Abraham is known as the father of our faith. He is revered for his personal faith and obedience to go to the land God was calling him to. What we rarely mention, however, is that Scripture tells us our patriarch also trafficked his wife, impregnated a teenage slave when he did not trust the promises of God, and then turned out to be a bona fide coward when he permitted his barren wife to assault the pregnant slave. The honesty of Scripture is shocking. Abraham is honored by the writers of Scripture, but they are also equally honest about his shortcomings.

Until you understand that honor and honesty are two sides of the same coin, you will likely be inclined to separate them.

As a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister, I’ve heard stories about hundreds of fathers. I’ve learned most people prefer to be fairly dishonest about what sorts of fathers they had. They opt for innocuous statements like:

  • “He was an OK dad. He came to my games and tried to support me.”
  • “I know he could have been more emotionally available, but he went through a lot of his own heartache. I feel bad for the way his life turned out.”
  • “My dad was pretty level-headed, but would sometimes lose his temper.”
  • “My dad was gone quite a lot. But he did a good job providing for our family.”

Until you understand that honor and honesty are two sides of the same coin, you will likely be inclined to separate them.

As you may have noticed, the statements above contain dangerous partial truths that allow the difficult moments we endured with our fathers to fester in hiding. We often do this to “honor” our fathers, but the shadow-side of honor is that we swerve to protect them so that we will never have to face the heartache of what their sin brought into our lives. Instead, we blame our shortcomings on external factors, or ourselves, rather than study the conditions that shaped us into the people we are today.

To be sure, our fathers likely showed us the importance of hard work, celebrated aspects of who we are, and maybe even spent meaningful time teaching us a life skill. But they also modeled how men tend to wield anger in times of chaos and pursue sexual escape in times of futility. They abdicated emotional responsibility to their wife and left us on the hook to care for our mothers. They spoiled us as the favored child and set us up to bear the cruel envy of their spouse and our siblings. They pressed us to be formed in their image or according to their desires. Our fathers, if we are honest, often left us hungering for a father.

Abraham is not just the father of our faith, he is a prototype of so many of our fathers. Notice how different the statements above become when we choose to be honest instead of protecting our fathers (and ourselves):

  • “My dad showed up to my games, but he mostly did so for selfish reasons. He would watch me like a hawk and then spend the next few days critiquing how I played. I eventually stopped playing in high school because I couldn’t handle his surveillance.”
  • “My dad would get home from work and wouldn’t say more than six or seven words for the rest of the evening. He lost a job he really cared about and something in him never recovered. Not a night would go by that he did not allow me to see his defeated face. One of the consequences of his depression was my mom turned her need for intimacy to me.”
  • “My father would lose his temper when my siblings would roughhouse. One time he even flipped over a table and stared us down with rage. On the surface, we were annoying kids and he wanted to intimidate us into silence. But in reality, he loved to quarrel. His eyes came alive during our fights.”
  • “My dad preferred to be gone on business trips. My mother was a miserable person to be around and being a good business man was the perfect excuse to escape his marriage. When he would get back home, he always treated me to a day of shopping. I used to think of it as being spoiled. Now I see it as his way of paying me for what I endured at home in his absence.”

So what is the point of all this honesty? Jesus says we cannot follow him if we have not left our parents. Leaving our father is not merely geographical or legal, it is an issue of where our emotional loyalty resides. Honesty is not about blaming our fathers, or merely naming their sins. It is about opening our hearts to the deepest pain and hunger within us, and owning the implications they have had on our own choices.

God desires for us to grieve the stories in our life that lacked a good father. Why? Because God wants to Father us. Blessed are we who mourn our fathers, for we will be comforted.

If you want to experience the comfort of God, the cost may involve no longer protecting your father from the heartache he introduced. Most of us however choose protection of our families at the cost of our lives. Inevitably, we begin leaning on our addictions, our careers, or our ability to please or intimidate others because they all provide avenues to escape the honor and honesty that healthy relationships require. Unwittingly, we become like our fathers having vowed not to.

This Father’s Day, what if in addition to remembering to connect with or remember your dad, you also spent time conversing with a friend or spouse about a specific story with your dad that has been a significant place of pain? It is our honesty that opens our hearts to receive the love of the Father. This love of the Father is what allows us to be the children and parents we ultimately long to be.

Questions for Further Conversation

  1. Why do we find it so difficult to be honest about the impact of our fathers?
  2. What is one story we experienced with our fathers that has been too overwhelming to name?
  3. What comfort might we find in Jesus if we welcomed him into the unresolved stories we have with our fathers?
  4. For Parents: If it’s true the sins of our fathers are passed down, then an equally important question to ask is, “How honest have I allowed my children to be about areas I have fallen short?” Teaching them now, and modeling for them, what that honesty means may save them a lifetime of heartache later.