An Open Letter to First-Generation Dads on Fathers’ Day

There are fathers and then there are dads, am I right?

I have had the great fortune of having both wonderful fathers and dads in my life—fathers who lovingly brought children into the world and dads who diligently saw it through and continue to do so. For us, Fathers’ Day is simple.

We grill out and go to car shows. We treat him with gifts and cards and thank him for making us what we are. Dad has some fun and feels appreciated. Done.

But for some dads, this is all very new. Because some dads have never celebrated Fathers’ Day and maybe don’t know how to.

My outstanding husband is one of these men. He grew up with his father being mostly absent, and when he wasn’t away, he managed to be damaging instead. He didn’t provide for his children. He abandoned them. He didn’t discipline his children. He threatened them. He didn’t love his children. He forgot them. He didn’t brag on his kids; he built himself up. He didn’t usher his children into the presence of Christ; he led them into fear and shame and anger. He continually brought disruption, angst, and division.

A child who grows up with a father like this often feels bewildered or resentful toward Fathers’ Day. And over the years, when life threw roadblocks in the way of my own Fathers’ Day plans for my husband in the form of uncooperative toddlers or rain or lack of funds, he’d always shrug his shoulders. No big deal, Maura, he would say. Let’s focus on your dad. Or let’s focus on the kids today. They need it more than I do.

To these men, to my beloved husband, I address the following to you.

I’m sorry you were treated that way. Your life was made much harder because of that lack of love and guidance, and you should have been treated better. You should have had better.

You have done a monumental thing by becoming a first-generation dad. You model our heavenly Father to our children by earnestly seeking Him. You spent effort throughout your life trying to find a human fatherly example so you would know how to raise kids someday, while I never had to think about it. It was a thing I intrinsically knew and never, ever had to question.

But you spent your life questioning. You spent your life watching, keenly observing. You took your own elusive heartbreak and pinned it down with questions. You took those questions to friends, to parents of friends, to pastors and priests, to professors, the lady in the business office at college, a hairdresser, and fellow RAs, and you carefully formed ideas. You prayed and you read everything your mentors recommended. You raised yourself with dignity and aimed for something higher, always higher. And you did this all while dealing with the life the rest of us find hard: getting into college, finding a spouse, buying a home, managing money, holding a job, and balancing everything with your family.

For that, I deeply and humbly respect you. What I never had to work to know, you dedicated your life to knowing even though you never felt it in the way it should have been felt. I always admired this about you, but now that I’ve known you for the better part of two decades, I understand it more intimately, more painfully, more soberly. It is more precious to me than it has ever been.

I see your anger. It takes different forms as life changes for us, and in every stage, I struggle to understand it. I’m sorry. I find it hard to understand sometimes because I didn’t have to work for what I know.

See, I intrinsically know that I am safe. I don’t have to work to know that I am loved unconditionally. I don’t find it hard to believe that my family will never leave me, because in 35 years, my family has never left me. My family has seen my entire life and has loved me through every moment.

But your soul-work has also changed as our life together changes. I see you providing something new for our children—that same safety that I have; that same unconditional love that I experience. You say “I love you” when you discipline. You work hard to communicate to our kids that your own struggles are not their fault and never will be.

You show our kids that love is simple, but it’s complicated too. God’s love understands nuance, and hurts with those who hurt. You may have been damaged, but you are being saved, and you are a pioneer.

Our life together may be more complicated than any other family I know, but this one thing I have learned: God’s promise of redemption and healing is truth, and you are a living, growing manifestation of it.

I am thankful for you, today and always. Happy Fathers’ Day.

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Maura Oprisko is the creator of the "The Least of…
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