The Impact of a Father

I got my undergraduate degree from Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.  I was part of their honors program, the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom.  When I graduated I received a numbered, special edition (signed my MacArthur’s widow, Jean) copy of his autobiographical book, “Reminisces”.  It had been years since I read it, but I recently picked it up again.  I am a history buff, so much of the material is right up my alley.  Much of the early part of the book deals with his family history, particularly the life of his father, Arthur MacArthur, who was a great soldier in his own right and a hero of the Civil War.  In fact, Arthur and Douglas are the only father-son duo in American history to have both been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor that our nation can bestow upon a soldier.  It is obvious in all of the material that deals with his father that Douglas MacArthur nearly idolized him and that their relationship was very close and full of great respect and affection.  One of the most poignant passages in the entire book is when MacArthur relates the story of his father’s death, on the 50th anniversary reunion of his Civil War regiment, the Wisconsin 24th.  He relates the details of the event in a straightforward, almost clinical fashion, similar to how he describes military maneuvers and strategy throughout the rest of the book.  But he adds a coda that is incredibly telling.  He says, “my world changed that day and I have not been able to fill the hole in my heart since”.  He writes this 50 years after the events happen, as a man in his early 80s whose life experiences, accomplishments and decorations few in history can match.  But the pain that comes through his words, even after all of those years stopped me in my tracks.  The “ultimate soldier” (at least that is the public image that MacArthur cultivated, I have no idea whether or not that was true), grieving the loss of his father, half a century later.

What an impact a father has.

I got my seminary degree from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and during my time there “inclusive language” (that is to say, gender-neutral language) was a fairly big deal among the student body.  The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) translation of the Bible was relatively new and its use of gender-neutral language in reference to God in many passages made a few waves.  Brite is definitely left of center theologically but it was not a place where (at least in my experience) liberal theology was shoved down anyone’s throat.  But that experience made me think a lot about how Jesus referred to God as “Father” or even “Daddy” throughout the Gospels.  Some argued that emphasizing this might be hurtful or raise unnecessary obstacles to faith for those who had difficult or hurtful experiences with their earthly fathers.  But doesn’t this make the same point as emphasizing it, only in a different way?  You can face up to it or ignore it but you can’t make it go away.

What an impact a father has.

I am not interested in arguing a theological point or discussing gender roles or language.  I am only pointing out the obvious.  Fathers, by their presence or absence, their success or failure, love or anger, faith or lack thereof make a huge impact.  What kind of impact did your father have on you?  Is it a cause of gratitude or pain to you?  And if you are a father, what kind of impact are you having?  Because you are having one, make no mistake.

I don’t know what your earthly father was like (thankfully, mine was and is wonderful).  But your Heavenly Father loves you more than you could possibly understand.  And the impact of knowing that can do more in your heart and soul than anything else.

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