Father's Day 2023
Updated: Jul 2
Father's Day "Its an Enigma, an Intimate Enigma"
I wrote this five years ago. I had remembered that I had written a brief reflection for Father's day in the early 2000's called "intimate enigma." I took it up again when I turned fifty, and now again at fifty five since I have this here website; all you fellas, happy Fathers day.
These two words, mutual modifiers, don’t seem to belong together. One says “near” the other says, “just out of reach.” One says “known presence” the other says, “presence of the unknown.” They came together for me, when, as a pastor, I was attempting to write some significant reflection in a bulletin about the annual celebration of Father’s day; it was a ponderous moment of sitting with hands on keyboard, waiting. I suppose I was at first attempting to derive some meaning from my relationships with my own father and grandfathers, and also, to think about my friends and spouse; those who had particularly fruitful or surface relationships with their fathers. I was also attempting to place Father’s day in relationship to Mother’s day, that other hallmark celebration that seems to come and go without the same strangeness, at least for me. And finally, now a father myself, I was shaping an understanding of my own role as teacher and governor of two young boys. Sitting there, I had concluded that father-hood is an intimate enigma. These words may describe the shape being takes, since we are at once unbearably finite creatures, with what seems to be an innate sense of the infinite. It could be that, when we have moments that are still, we are enveloped in what others have called mystery; a chronic aliveness. In this mystery, these words represent that human integration of the strange and the familiar, they belong together. Life might be encapsulated as one big intimate enigma.
My relationship with my father has become mellow and edifying as I near my fiftieth year. I can’t say with much confidence how it is for him, but alas, as I emote that kind of doubt, I emulate the epistemological activity I unconsciously inherited from him. It is a liberating thing, to acknowledge this bearable fact, that I am like my father. At fifty, I can proudly acknowledge this inherited emulation and own its inevitable gravity as a path to wisdom. At thirty- five, it seemed a secret, a muddled denial of a wound that is really a strengthening, a strengthened realism about the obscurity of all relationships; but especially those developed as fathers and sons. And this is the enigma about it all; that we share in some common wound as fathers and sons that can bring forth life, and newness. But the enigma is deeper still, for it is formed in a recollection of presence that cajoles the pathos of adventure, to become mired in worlds unknown, not just another world, but whole other worlds. This is where the imagination is employed. Hearing from my mother stories about my father in college brings what once was un-thinkable, there was a time when he was not a father. The Father as the son, a foray into a subterranean world in which my 18 year old self could observe his 18 year old self; casting him in a light of recognition, aspects of himself that are there, yet not. Me and dad have both been eighteen. More still, the imagination works from another angle, wondering about the wonders of manhood; here the enigma approaches in persistent questions, “what’s it like?” What is it like to experience manhood? What is it, and how do you reflect upon the inevitable envy which skewers our eyes, puncturing our vision of others? What’s it like to flirt within healthy boundaries, to contain the urges of the eyes and the heart? What is it like to govern the anger for fellow men when they fail to dignify themselves and others with truth and goodness? What’s it like to fail, and fail again, and again, until you give up or give in to the evocative semblance of sin? The Father is that enigmatic person who remains there, in a concurrent intimacy, the inevitable fact of his presence. Instructions seem to fail here; only observation and personal risk make us want to enter the enigma ourselves.
Therein we are led back to the mystery of self-consciousness, that Augustinian grasp of amazement that we have yet to be crushed, and the wonder that we may become redeemed! The enigmatic draws us toward excess and adventure. It can also bring us to such points of light that we seek another kind of life, we long to be “above it all.” Seeing in the father what is great, but also observing the corrosion of that thing, we seek to rise above it in order to avenge our fathers, or we reject it outright and attempt to kill our fathers by doing what is diametrically opposed to his valuable gifts, his values. I tried the former, and could not bear it. My father was a pastor, he had a lot more “children” than the four at home, and he knew that he could care well for the hundreds who appreciated his wisdom, insight and care. All of us witnessed the powerful responses of hundreds of people who greeted him with joy and respect. It was a beautiful thing, but in the darker days of family stress, we discovered that such heights of compassion and relational work took its toll on all of us, including our mother. So, not knowing where I was going, or what I could become, I went to the default path of thinking, acting, and aspiring to be like my father. I was pretty good at it too---I became a pastor with a charming wit, but I did not have my father's wisdom, humility or work-ethic. Things quickly digressed after I realized that the ministry did not mean reading in your study most of the week and presenting profundities from the pulpit each Sunday. It involved both of those tasks, but also a grave responsibility for the politics of the community. That is where effective ministry takes up the mercy of The Father and orders the community for compassion. I expected compassion without the politicking, and, just as important, the ordering work. I was like my father, I wasn’t like my father, it was an intimate enigma. I had to get out of the intimacy and into the enigma. All men might become themselves by owning the intimate knowledge they have of their fathers and embracing the enigma of their own existence. Its there but just out of reach. Yet still, reach out your hand my brothers, what else is there to do?