Friday, 29 August 2014

Wait til your Dad gets home! Why God as a father-figure is a problem



The phone rings:

"Hello?"
"Hi Dad. It's me."
"Oh...hello."
"Is Mum there?"
"Yes."
"Can I speak to her?"
"Yes...I'll put her on."
"Ok...bye."
"Bye."

This is just about the only one-to-one conversation that my Dad and I have with each other since I moved out of home. Admittedly, my Dad is something of a relic from a forgotten era, and still views the telephone with bemused suspicion, but looking back, I don't think conversations were actually all that fulsome when I was still living under his roof.  Introverted and quiet by choice, for decades he has moved silently from his arm-chair, to his bike, to work, and then home again, to return to his arm-chair and the sanctuary provided by his newspaper.
He's just not much of a talker, but then again, he's never needed to be. Since the age of seventeen, he's been with my mother, and honestly, she can talk enough for both of them. She was - and still is - the conduit between my Dad and I.  If I need a shelf putting up ( my husband and I are complete DIY morons) then I ask Mum...and she TELLS Dad to come and do it.  Any familial news, trivial or earth-shattering, we tell Mum and in due course, she passes it on. This is our status-quo, and if I ever attempted to bypass her and go directly to Dad, she would probably feel quite put out, because that's just not how things are done in our family.

Dad the Father

 It's not that my Dad is a non-entity; quite the opposite in fact.  Because he is so taciturn, when he does say something everybody pays attention, unlike those of us who probably talk too much and have our superfluous conversation tuned out frequently.  Growing up, he played the role of traditional Dad; he went out to work and my Mum kept house and looked after my brother and I.  If we were naughty (which was regularly) we were often threatened with that old chestnut, "just you wait until your father gets home!" To which my brother and I would snigger, knowing full well that upon hearing of our crimes, his reaction would be something along the lines of, "Oh well...don't do it again then," before retreating behind his paper.  In our house, my mother was the true disciplinarian.  She punished us if we needed it; she was the one we went to if we were hurt, or scared, or lonely or bored,
 or whatever.  She took care of our needs, which were many and varied.  As a child, she was my whole world, and in many ways she still is.

God the Father

I don't want to denigrate Dads, least of all my own; it's just that my relationship with my Mum is so much more all encompassing and in many ways, more vital to my daily happiness.  Trying therefore to get my head around a God who is my Father, has often not been helpful to me in building and deepening my relationship with Him.  If I'm upset and need a calming arm around my shoulder, it is to my mother who I inevitably turn.  If I have a problem and desperately need advice, my mother is my first port of call.  My Dad loves me, and I know on an instinctive level that if I were to go to him
in any of the above scenarios, he would do his very best to comfort and help me.  Unfortunately, the
inter-change would be so excruciatingly embarrassing for both of us that I'd never consider putting
him through it. You perhaps see now why I have a hang-up in this area; it has the potential for creating rather awkward prayer moments.

God the Mother

Some nights, my prayer to God might be a request to embrace me with His love; to commit me to his tender loving care; to nurture my burgeoning faith and feed my hungry soul.  And really, aren't many of these words adjectives commonly reserved for Mothers? Let's indulge in the stereotype for a moment and consider who it is in our society who commonly does the nurturing and feeding and caring; whose love leans towards the tender side? It is mothers whom we more often than not turn to to meet these needs. Which makes me wonder why we don't focus more often on this clearly feminine aspect of God's character, or rather, why we give these characteristics a male hook to hang them on.

Problematic labels

The God of my childhood most definitely was a dominant male Father-figure, in the most traditional sense. This was the God of Sunday school, with an Old Testament bias and a concentration on judgment, punishment and repentance.  This then was my Christian heritage/ baggage that I had to unpack when I first started to seriously consider becoming a Christian as an adult.  It is an issue which continues to impede me on my journey of faith, for it is inconceivable to me that I should desire a personal relationship with a God who, quite frankly, terrified me as a child of four.  While my Dad is actually a pussy cat by comparison, the Father label then just doesn't cut it for me. But then ultimately, nor does the word Mother.

In the name of the Parent? 

In an ideal world parents would be the perfect double act.  They ought to complement one another and share out the duty of care and responsibility equally.  One parent might have a particularly gentle touch when it's needed, the other might be adept at standing firm; one might be a good listener; the other might be just the person to go to for advice.
I want to envision a God who epitomises all these qualities, and I want my vision to have no gender bias. This image of God would encapsulate the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes, for weren't we all made in His image, men and women? For me, this is a view of God that is far broader than I ever imagined as a child and it's one that I wouldn't mind forming a relationship with.
So for any any problems I have, I'll be offering them up to Him/Her.
For putting up shelves, I'll still be asking my Dad.

If you've got any thoughts on this, please do share them with me.  I'd particularly be grateful for any suggestions of reading material that might help me on my way. Thanks for reading.

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