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Guilt & Grace

I stopped by my parent’s grave this weekend. I think I was inspired by Rocky Balboa in the movie “Creed”. He’s really all that’s left from those early movies as both his wife Adrian, and his best friend Paulie have passed away. Rocky makes a regular pilgrimage to the cemetery, folding chair in hand, and sits there for a while talking to his friend and his wife about current events as if they haven’t really left him.

I get it.

On the occasion when I do visit my parents, I can’t help but look down at the ground and think, this is where they actually are. I suppose, for some people, it must feel like kind of a nexus point between this world and the next, with their physical bodies so close. Of course, this would be where people come to talk to their loved ones. To tell them they miss them and love them. With Father’s Day looming, I had one question for my father as I stood in front of his headstone.

Why?

Why didn’t he leave me an inheritance? 

I needed an inheritance of teachable moments. Moments I could pass down to my own children. I needed an inheritance of reminders of love and encouragement. I needed an inheritance of “un-silence” so I might better communicate life to my own boys. Instead I got nuggets of wisdom like, “Keep your zipper up!” and “With your line of shit, you’re either going to be a lawyer or in jail.” Stirring gems of positivities, I know.

As my father slowly slipped away from lung cancer at the end of his life, I prayed for him. I also I tied up some of the loose ends of his life, including collecting his final round of football tickets, his illegal side hustle, and paying his tab at a coffee shop. Still, I prayed for his soul, and for miraculous healing as well. I remember thinking as my father slipped into a drug induced coma on his way out of his mortal shell, that God could use even the ticks between the seconds to make his heavenly destination assured, if we had any doubt at all.

I imagine if we are allowed regrets in Heaven, not the heavy-laden, guilt-pounding kind, but the simple acknowledgment of all that grace has covered kind, then my dad probably regrets needing the grace of God to cover all that time spent in a bar, all that time spent in his private men’s club, all that time spent doing all the things that made my mother consider leaving, “if not for the kids…”

I also wonder if he had those regrets while living. Did he feel like he failed in these areas, but since you’re a guy, you just grin and bear it? I know I have those regrets now. I even try to convey them to my boys, but while the words in my head are eloquent, they are nothing more than a newspaper word jumble when they try to burst forth from my lips. 

In reality, whatever kind of inheritance of fatherhood my father left me, I’m still responsible to leave one to my own children. It doesn’t matter if you start behind the eight ball. I have tried, but I don’t feel like I succeeded. I was too strict with my oldest, too lax with my youngest. I know more about God’s grace than I ever did early on and I know it really is about passing on that understanding to them more than anything else. That grace allows mistakes to be made, and still be forgiven and loved. That grace allows behavior to be shaped by it. 

But that’s not what I did. 

I used the law as a hammer for my oldest, and then when I learned just enough about grace to be dangerous, I assumed that grace would somehow act as a “good law” with my younger one. If I could apologize to my boys for failing them every day for the rest of my life, I would, and it wouldn’t be enough.

So here we are… Father’s Day. 

It never fails to feel like a two-ton weight on my back, pushing down on all my fears and failures. It reminds me that I wish I had a better inheritance to pass on. I wish I created my own.  I wish I could go back in time and change it all. 

But I can’t. 

I’ve worked in family court in NYC for a number of years and I clerked for a divorce judge. Seeing all that I have seen in those two positions, I know there are more guys like me out there, guys who have blown it. There are too many to count. If you’re reading this, and feel like one of those countless numbers, take comfort. Not in the mess you feel guilty for, but that you’re not alone in this world. We are a league of the bad-dads, who wish they could’ve done better, and maybe are still trying.

I have a word for you. 

Grace is waiting.

Christ has dipped himself in the waters of baptism and walked out of those waters with all of your burdens. He has carried them to the cross. They have already died there. Tomorrow’s have died as well. Next week’s and next year’s too. This is what God does. That powerful act of grace, means what came before doesn’t have to be the last word. Let that grace fuel better. Let it empower opportunities. I’m preaching to myself as well.

Going back to my father. There were moments I was grateful for, small moments. I wish there were more. I wish those moments were bigger, more transcendent or transferrable, but I’m still grateful for them. 

Going back to my children. I’ve had a few moments that I’ve been grateful for, small moments. I wish there were more. Bigger, more transcendent moments. I’m still breathing, so maybe I’ll have that opportunity. I’m still grateful for them.

Good or Bad, like father, like son, I suppose.

I’m sure in the well of guilt and failures, you can pull up a bucket with a moment or two. Moments you can cherish and be grateful for, even as you work at creating even more.

As you wrestle this Father’s Day, as you struggle with measuring up to all the cards and cologne given, even as some of you struggle with the harsh truth of nothing given, I pray grace is your steady sidekick, reminding you that you are forgiven and loved. Be free from the weight of guilt often associated with trying to be better and failing, and may that grace guide your betters, taking it one slow, simple, awkward, but honest step at a time.

Happy Father’s Day. 

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