I’ve been struggling all day. Father’s Day fills me with a very different set of emotions than Mother’s Day. The emotions of this day are sadness, nostalgia, anger, shame, gratitude, regret and joy.
My dad was my first hero. As a child he was tall and powerful. He could do anything. He was patient and kind and quiet and wise.
As I grew into my teens I did what so many of us do. I began to consider him passé. I felt that I was every bit as wise. In fact wiser because I knew what the current reality looked like and he didn’t.
As vocation came calling I even had the nerve to think of myself as being as spiritually mature as he was. I prided myself that my knowledge of theology exceeded his. I began to actually think of myself as his equal. How foolish I was.
I went off to the west to make my mark on the world and on the church. I don’t even want to think of the many Fathers Days when I wasn’t there. I cared and I called, but I wasn’t there. Could I have not gone home once? I regret letting this day pass so many times with not enough done and with no presence.
I am ashamed of what I thought of my father in my youth. At some point I realized that he far beyond me in so many ways. The very idea that I considered myself his equal was ludicrous. Yet he was gracious with his pretentious and pompous middle child. I suspect he knew that life would humble me and God would show me how things really stand.
If he thought that, he never told me. He just continued to live his life, happy with what God had given him and determined to raise his family to know the love of God in Christ.
As a transgender child, as an M to F transsexual, I have a mixed up relationship with maleness. My father was my first role model. He was my first glimpse into what real manhood looks like. It was confusing because I loved him as my father and yet I didn’t want to be what he was, a man. Yet he taught me the big things and the little things of being a man in this culture. He taught me that real men sacrifice for their families. Real men provide and protect. Real men show love by what they do. He taught me a million small things: how to tie a four-in-hand, how to shine your shoes, how to throw a football, and the list goes on. Part of me pulled away from all those things. Part of me wanted to have nothing to do with those things of manhood.
Transition totally changed my relationship with my father. Suddenly he had one less son and one more daughter. He handled it like a champ. He embraced me.
I know he had to face his own stuff around my transition. Soon after I had announced to my parents that I was transgender, my father spoke of his first reaction. He wondered aloud if he had somehow failed me and if my issues around gender were because of a shortcoming of his regarding fatherhood. I was shocked to hear him say that and we had our first father/daughter moment around that issue.
Later his concern for me was expressed in a style that was so much like him. He was concerned that I would not be able to make a living after transition. His practical and pragmatic approach to keeping body and soul together was a hallmark of his. He was worried that my transition would leave me unemployable. He was rarely prouder of me than the day I called to tell him and my mother than I had a job as Carla.
The day they came to Seattle to meet their “new” daughter, I met them at the airport. It was my father who recognized me. As that visit went on, he became more and more comfortable with me as his daughter. The few words he spoke near the end of that visit assured me that I had made it in his eyes.
Now he’s gone on and I am left with all my stuff on this Father’s Day. I’ve missed him but not spoken of him. There have been others who needed to talk to me. It’s not been my day to talk. Still I’ve encountered my father in church today.
- I caught an echo of his thinking in one line from the epistle lesson, “I speak as to children.” I was reminded that my dad held that there was a gap between children and adults that should be held and respected.
- I thought I caught a glimpse of him during the Sanctus. I had bowed my head for the thrice holy and when I looked up I thought I saw him briefly in the assembly. Maybe it was just an echo of my own thinking about the Sanctus. It is the time of the service when we as the church on earth join to song that goes on all the time in heaven. Sometimes during the Sanctus the veil between this world and the next seems so thin that I can see through it.
- I heard his voice during the communion hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” I first heard that song sung by the choir at St Phillip Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio. My dad was in that choir. That song was my first introduction to a strain that runs through Christianity: mystery. The song has always had an impact on me. Today as I sang it, standing at the altar in my vocation as priest of the Church, it reduced me to tears.
All day I’ve had my father on my mind though not on my lips. Still, as a song from the radio show Sunday’s Hornpipe again brought me to tears, I stood out to perform a simple ritual. Stepping out of my door I raised a glass of wine and emptied it into the ground in honor of my father and I spoke of my desire to see him again.