I met my dad once when I was 17. Typically, when I tell people this they get uncomfortable and apologize. When I was a kid, my peers would ask me why I didn’t know my dad, and then I would be the uncomfortable one, because I felt like the odd man out…like there was something wrong me with because of his absence. I used to think I was alone in the fatherless struggle, but statistics show 24 million kids in America are growing up in a fatherless home. That’s 1 in 3.
Meeting my dad was strange. As I was growing up, I romanticized the idea of this absent figure in my life. He was some sort of hero, out doing something heroic, and trying to make his way back to me. I imagined if we ever met, it would be like a scene from a movie where the characters realize they finally found the piece of themselves that was missing. Instead, our meeting was brief and awkward. The guy standing before me had my eyes, but he was a stranger. In our meeting, I found out he was married and had 4 kids, the closest in age only 6 months younger than me. He let me know he married his wife when he found out she was having a boy, because boys need fathers. He was right, I thought, “but girls need fathers, too.”
My dad is still a stranger. I’ve not seen him since that meeting nearly a decade ago, but that meeting started me on a path toward emotional healing. I didn’t realize how growing up without a dad had affected me, but it showed in my behavior. I struggled with depression. I was clingy with my grandpa, because he was the only consistent male in my life. I didn’t know how to interact with my friend’s dads, but I desperately wanted them to like me. Growing up without a dad affected the way I interacted with guys romantically. It deeply affected my approach to God. I had this fear that when people got to know me, they would realize what my dad realized: That I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
I was 16 when I got in church. It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I realized I had an issue with accepting the concept of God as Father. I didn’t like to view him as such, and I didn’t like to think of him loving me as his child. Because my view of fathers was similar to how most secular people view God. A distant creator; uninterested and uninvolved. If God was my Father, he didn’t care about me. It was at this point I realized I was projecting my insecurities on God – building up high walls so he couldn’t hurt me. Rejecting him first, so he couldn’t reject me. God is so patient with us. He understands emotional healing is a process. Emotional wounds aren’t easily mended. They take time and effort, and sometimes a little pain, to allow full healing to take place. He loves me unconditionally, but it took time for me to learn that.
God has helped me heal from the pain of fatherlessness and understand his relation to me as Father in several ways. The greatest of which was placing my pastor, Chantry, in my life. Chantry is not only my pastor, but my mentor and dad for all intents and purposes. Chantry has loved me through my worst mistakes, helps me up when I fall, and corrects me when I’m wrong. He was there through the loss of my family, and has adopted me into his, occasionally going as far as to introduce me as his oldest daughter. Chantry is consistent in every area of his life, and shows me how husbands should love their wives and how fathers should love their daughters in his interactions with his wife, Heather, and his daughter, Ava. He is the most important man in my life. Without him I wouldn’t be who I am today, and my relationship with God would not be what it is. Chantry helped me to understand God as my Father.
God has also allowed me to develop relationships with several families with strong father figures. My friends, Richard and Crystal, are another surrogate family for me. They allow me to be part of their lives and the lives of their kids, Will and Salem. Will and Salem are 15, so we’ll have family discussion and Bible studies together. This relationship affords me the opportunity to interact within a whole and healthy family in the pursuit of the Kingdom, so one day I am able to have something like that of my own. I have another friend in Louisiana, and every time I have the opportunity to spend time with her family, her dad makes a point to do something nice and let me know, “this is what fathers do.” One time I was riding in the car with him, and he let me know he was proud of me and told me something I am now able to appreciate. He said, “Hannah, it is an honor God saw fit for you to go through the things you’ve been through. The trials and the absence of a father allows you to minister to those who are still in the midst of the pain.”
Ministry from the Pain
I am the Student Advocate at a Junior High here in town. I work primarily with the at-risk kids. These are the kids with behavior problems and poor grades and attendance. It’s not surprising most of these students are also living in a single-parent home. According to the CDC, 85% of children who show behavior disorders come from Fatherless homes. 71% of students who drop out of high school also come from Fatherless homes – that’s 9 times the average. Every day, I am given the opportunity to work with, and minster to, these kids who are in the midst of a situation I went through when I was their age. I’m able to relate to them on this basic level, because God saw fit for me to experience the pain of fatherlessness.
I know the idea that God would allow us to go through painful situations isn’t popular to a lot of people. He’s supposed to be loving and merciful and give us whatever we want. This is not a Biblical view of God, but a carnal one. Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter. We are all the work of your hands.” In my journey to understand God as Father, I’ve discovered he uses painful situations as teaching moments, the same way a good father will teach his child to be wise in earthly matters, or the way a potter might have to smash and rework the clay, to create the object of his desire. Had I not experienced the pain of fatherlessness, I would not be able to develop the relationships I have with my students. Had I not experienced the pain of fatherlessness, I would not be able to understand the beauty of God’s love for me as my Father. He saw fit for me to bear the burden of fatherlessness, so I could help others bear it now.
Statistics tell me 1 in 3 people who read this will have experienced the pain of not having known their father. To those who have, please know you are not alone. You are not less than. God loves you so much, and he will put people in your life to show you how a father should love his child. Don’t close yourself off to what he wants to do in your life for fear of rejection. He saw fit for you to bear the burden of fatherlessness, so you can be his hands to this broken world.
about the author
Hannah Riddle is the Student Advocate at a Junior High in Bentonville, AR. She is passionate about working with at-risk youth and believes in the power of mentoring. She enjoys reading, painting, and doing things outdoors.