When I was young, Father’s Day meant telling dad to have a good day, or giving him a present, or making/buying him a meal, or any of those other things we do for our fathers on this day. Now that I’ve advanced through fatherhood to grand-fatherhood, I’ve got a new perspective on the day.
I enjoy thinking about my children and grandchildren, spending time with them, giving them hugs, telling them I love them. I like to reflect upon my relationships with them and the roles I’ve played in the lives of these new people I helped bring into the world. Such contemplations can be both rewarding and humbling. I am so proud of all my children for who they have become and it’s wonderful to consider how I may have influenced much of that.
But there are always those memories of the mistakes I’ve made as well, and the embarrassing traits I passed on unwittingly, as I see my own imperfections showing up here and there in my childrens’ angry response or impatient quip. We’re all still pretty young and inexperienced when we’re raising children, and I wish I had known then some of the things I know now. I could have done so much better as a dad. But that’s part of the beauty of grand-parenting. We get another chance to influence a new generation.
One Saturday morning last fall, I discovered a new role of fatherhood. As a clinic escort, I spend only a few minutes walking with women during what is for many of them a very emotional and traumatic march from their car to the front door of the doctor’s office. Because it is assumed they are all having frivolous abortions, they are subjected to comments of judgment, guilt, accusation, condemnation, insult, disrespect, and disregard from the misogynist, anti-choice, Christian protesters who line the sidewalks and shout at them, or follow them and continually hound them every step of the way. And sometimes they intimidate quietly with overwhelming numbers of disapproving faces staring at them.
On this particular morning last fall, the Men’s Prayer Group from Southeast Christian Church decided to visit the clinic to show their disapproval. Southeast Christian is our local megachurch with a weekly attendance of 18,000 or more, and it is well-attended by many of the city’s elite, privileged, and powerful families. Over 100 men, mostly older men from their late thirties and up to their seventies, lined the sidewalk across the street from the clinic. Even I, a 53-year-old man, could feel the oppression the minute I climbed out of my car.
A view from the side.
The very first woman I escorted into the clinic that morning was young, perhaps late teens or early twenties, and accompanied by another young woman of about the same age. Some women of that age are bold and rebellious, thick-skinned, and unaffected by the opinions of their elders, but many are still dependent upon their parents and families and very sensitive to disapproval. I don’t think this young woman was of the former set. She clung to my arm, the arm of a complete stranger, and as we got closer to the door, as the condemnations got stronger and louder, she buried her face in my shoulder, and after a few more steps, I heard sobs.
As escorts, we played our roles well and got her to the door without misstep, but her sobs had reached a place deep within me. I will carry them the rest of my life. I did not behave well the rest of that morning. Normally very tolerant of the protesters and respectful of their rights to bad opinions, I ended up lashing out at them time and again, marching among the ranks of the Southeast Christian Men’s Prayer Group and calling them oppressors, cussing at their retorts, and claiming aloud my newfound hatred of Christians. I was acting very out-of-character and aroused the concern of numerous fellow escorts, including my own daughter of the same age as the client I had escorted and our beloved and perceptive mentor Drew.
It took about 9 months of soul-searching to finally release my hatred and regain my peace. My first step was to identify my emotions and find where all that anger came from. It was those disapproving men–fathers, grandfathers, and uncles–disapproving of women who could be their daughters, granddaughters, nieces, or even their wives. Disapproving men, withholding their love and attention, ignoring the needs of their young charges who look to them for guidance, look to them for the unconditional love and acceptance expected of a father, look to them for comfort at their times of greatest need. Disapproving men willing to abandon their daughters during their moment of deepest emotional distress, embarrassment, and fear, and leave them to walk through this gauntlet of hatred with a complete stranger, a man who will be in her life for only a few minutes, but is willing and able to be her surrogate father.
I wasn’t the best surrogate father I could be that day. It was the first time this had ever happened to me and I wasn’t prepared. I wish I had put my hand on hers as she held on tightly to my arm. I wish I had spoken softly to her to tell her it would be alright. I wish I had walked right in through the clinic door with her. I wish I could have given her a proper hug once inside. I would have known to do that with my own daughter, but this girl I didn’t know. WHERE WAS HER FATHER, DAMN IT! Was he just like those disapproving men across the street? He should have been at her side instead of me. Sometimes a girl just needs her daddy, no matter the circumstances!
While this holiday called Father’s Day only comes once a year, every day I escort at the clinic is a potential Father’s Day for me. Now that I understand the role of surrogate father, I am ready and willing and, hopefully, better prepared. I no longer hate Christians and have regained my former tolerance, but I have replaced the hatred with pity and shame for all those fathers, grandfathers, and uncles who are willing to condemn rather than to love their daughters unconditionally.