When I was in eighth grade, my parents divorced, and I felt like I had to choose sides. For a lot of reasons, I chose my mother.
Mom said she wanted me to respect my dad, but I didn’t want to. Demonizing my dad helped me make sense of all the heartache in our family. If he was the ultimate bad guy, there was no reason to mourn the fact that Mom wasn’t with him anymore. But the problem with demonizing him was that it made it impossible to be close to him.
One day after Dad moved out, he asked me if I wanted to spend an afternoon with him. He didn’t have much money at the time, but to my surprise, he offered to take me to Pizza Hut and to see a movie. I reluctantly said yes, and to my horror, he picked me up in the only vehicle he had: the cab of his 18-wheeler.
After the movie, Dad tried talking to me as we drove around in the cab, but pride and embarrassment kept me from engaging with him. I slumped down in the seat as far as I could go and gave one-word answers to his questions, hoping that none of the cool kids from school would see me riding around with him. And when he finally dropped me off, I mumbled a goodbye, shut the cab door, and got away from him as quickly as possible.
I didn’t see or hear from him again for three years.
I later learned that Dad moved to Arkansas to continue working as a truck driver. In the pre-cellphone days, truck driving made it difficult to stay in touch with loved ones, but not impossible. I didn’t care though — being in a relationship with Dad was complicated and confusing. It was easier to pull away, to believe that I didn’t need him or want him in my life. But I did.
Years later, after I had grown closer to Dad, I worked up the nerve to ask him why he disappeared during my teenage years.
“I figured you didn’t want to see me,” he said.
“You were right, Dad. I didn’t. But it didn’t matter. You were the parent. I was the child. That wasn’t an option, no matter how I felt.”
Dad didn’t try to argue with me.
Maybe you have a child who speaks to you with contempt, hardly looks at you when you talk, and rejects all your efforts to engage. Maybe you feel like they hate you. Well, maybe they do hate you; maybe your relationship is impossibly dysfunctional and complicated. They still need you.
Now is not the time to listen to your insecurities and fears of rejection. You’re the parent; you’re the one who’s primarily responsible for showing the Father love of God. And now is the time to do your best impersonation of Jesus, stretch out your arms in love, absorb the pain, and pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
It doesn’t mean your child should get away with flagrant disrespect or that you should shy away from tough love. It means you keep doing your thankless job, knowing that even if your child doesn’t appreciate it, your heavenly Father does. And, who knows, maybe your child will thank you one day when they realize how much you’ve cared all along.