I grew up more than a little afraid of my father. Approval from him was something that I craved, but it seemed that I was always falling short of the mark. As an adult, I hated that our conversations always seemed stilted and forced.
After his passing, I found I had unresolved issues, and even though he was gone, I wanted to forgive him for his violent outbursts and for hitting me when I was a child. After a great struggle, I was able to find some peace in forgiveness. But not long ago, I was thinking of him, and found myself saying, "But couldn't you have loved me just a little bit?"
I realized that there is more than a little self-pity in that remark, but I also recognized that I was being eaten up with regret that I couldn't remember ever being hugged, encouraged, or congratulated by him.
Even after many years of being a dad myself, having a successful career in teaching and government service, and enjoying a wonderful marriage, I felt that something was missing - that his approval would have filled the gap.
For many years, I've been accustomed to turning to God in prayer for comfort, well-being, and healing. So I found myself asking, "Does God know me and love me?" The Bible answers with a resounding yes. One translation reads: "It is the Lord who directs a person's steps; he holds him firm and approves of his conduct. Though he may fall, he will not go headlong, for the Lord grasps him by the hand" (Ps. 37:23, 24, Revised English Bible).
I found comfort in the image of God directing me, holding me, approving my conduct, and holding my hand. I turned to another book that has helped me understand the Bible, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," written by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy.
In her commentary on the first chapter of Genesis describing how God creates all and sees it as very good, she wrote, "This creation consists of the unfolding of spiritual ideas and their identities, which are embraced in the infinite Mind and forever reflected" (pp. 502-503). Here the biblical promise is warmed by a powerful verb, "embraced." God's embrace of me includes my entire being, and has never been partial or occasional, but always wholehearted.
I reasoned that God, the Source of all, is always reflected by His creation. If God is Love, then there must be love reflected everywhere.
In thinking about my dad, I came to see that he was born and grew up at a time when men were supposed to be tough and unsentimental. I looked at my memories of him again, this time from the lens of finding evidences of how he reflected Love in his actions.
First of all, I was grateful that this wonderful man introduced me to a love of the Bible, and brought Mary Baker Eddy's written work to the attention of our family. Second, he worked terribly hard and uncomplainingly to support his family. Because of his own family circumstances, he had never been able to complete his university studies, so his work prospects were always limited. Yet he did provide a safe home where our needs were met. Third, he gave me the gift of a love of music, and for 50 years I have been playing music joyfully.
My list grew longer and longer, but through these three gifts alone, I realized that Dad, while he may have found overt expression of affection difficult, really did love me and showed it abundantly.
For someone struggling with painful parental memories, I would say that finding God's perpetual embrace of me was the first step in my finding peace and healing regret. God's embrace is so total, that upon accepting it, I was able to find that I had always been loved. And this divine Love plugs up all the gaps.