If there is anything sad about the holiday season it’s reminding us of what we no longer have, family and friends we’ve lost, and things that can be no more. It can’t be helped. Among the lights, sounds, and smells we reminisce, often remorsefully, looking back over our shoulder into the direction of the past, the old and familiar, the comfortable, in other words, towards home.
Whether intentionally or by accident, we routinely allow life, decisions, and desires to get in the way and push what’s most important out towards the distance. But as the holiday season approaches, it seems we try to pull it back towards us and in so doing get us closer to home. In a million lifetimes, I would never wish to live in the town where I grew up yet I feel an uncontrollable force propelling me in that very direction at Christmastime, year after year. We fight traffic, delays, and weather while giving reason for that classic song, ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’.
Should we then be surprised that single mothers say it’s during this same time of year, the holiday season, that the father of their children miraculously, and often fearfully, returns from the dead? When after months, and sometimes years, that forsaken ghost reappears with the hope of finding its way back home.
The decision by a father to walk out on his children and sacrifice them on the altar of convenience and freedom is devastating. There is no justification under heaven to explain such behavior. It leaves a hole in his child’s heart that may take a lifetime to fill, and is often tried in unhealthy and destructive ways. Such a selfish choice by one person is no less horrific or damaging than child abuse, because it steals their innocence and robs them of the blessings only a father’s presence can provide.
But as happens time and time again, especially at Christmas, sooner or later most fathers always hunger for home and what they walked from. As time and experience have their way, he begins to reflect on the path chosen realizing it will never lead to the destination promised. Maybe it’s months, sometimes it takes years, often it may be decades. Overcome with regret and sorrow, he aches for what he once left behind. But when he turns in that direction the force of just how far he’s traveled begins to fall heavy. His calls go unanswered; gifts are returned; he doesn’t even seem to be missed anymore. Life carried on without him and it’s as if he never even existed. All of his former pretenses sealed his fate. And at that moment, like a volcano erupting upon him, he knows the truth that sometimes it’s a long way back home.
This holiday season, as with all holiday seasons, will lead some fathers to turn their heads in the direction of home. Caught up in the tidal wave of emotion and sentiment that no heart can avoid regardless how hard and selfish, many will turn back towards what they once wanted to avoid. They will long to look into a son’s eyes or see the beauty of a daughter’s face. They may yearn to hear the words ‘Daddy, I love you’ or experience the unmatched joy of being rushed upon by the little feet and hands of innocent love.
But theirs is a journey that must be long and painful. Too many times, their broken promises ended in broken hearts. The chords of trust have been severed, credibility erased. She doesn’t refuse because of greedy motives or control. She, more than anyone, desperately wants her children to have a father, but she’s all too familiar with how this scene has played out before. She’s seen too many times the disappointment and hurt in her children’s eyes after they’ve been shattered by heartless insincerity, and she’s left behind to mend the pieces back together.
It’s been said that a mother should never keep a father from seeing his children. I don’t believe this. Fatherhood is a right but only until that right is forfeit. Once a father abandons his responsibilities and throws his children to fate he loses the privilege of fatherhood, entirely. Anything less is an affront to the countless other fathers who chose that nobler path.
Single moms often ask me what they should do when a dad comes back from the dead and wanting to be part of his children’s lives again. I always reinforce that decision is hers, and hers alone. A mother should never feel guilt for protecting her children and their innocence, even if that means protecting them from their father, if she isn’t convinced he’s willing to be a part of their life fully instead of through breezy half measures.
Since he abandoned all responsibility and forced it upon her, it now becomes his burden to prove to her, through word and deed, that he’s sincere and prepared for whatever necessary to win back the right of being a father. That he will do whatever she puts before him, climbing the highest mountain and suffering the darkest valley, to prove that he is worthy and ready to receive the God given gift of being a ‘daddy.
That he will take the long way back home.