Father’s Day is always a bittersweet day for me. I am ever thankful for my children and grandchildren – y’all are such a joy! But my father, James McDonald IV, while my father, was not a dad; he was rarely there.
I never remember him playing ball with me, showing any interest in what I was doing, even acknowledging one of my accomplishments. He was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive – especially toward my mom.
He was not much of a provider. We grew up in poverty, living a nomadic life, moving from town to town in an effort to avoid bill collectors – and sometimes the law.
But, as I look back, I see my father was a product of his upbringing. He didn’t have a dad either. His father, James McDonald III, made national news when he divorced his then-wife, married my grandmother (to give my father a “name”), divorced her, and married a third woman who I later knew as Grandma June, all in the space of three days.
My grandmother pined for my grandfather for decades, later dying a mysterious death. My grandfather married at least eight times, not being very interested in his name’s sake. My father later shared a few memories of his childhood with me, only mentioning Helen Mooney, his governess, with any affection.
When he was older, he was sent to military boarding schools to be raised by nuns and former military officers. He then became a “black sheep,” was disinherited of what was left of the family fortune, living in the shadow of what might have been. His was a sad life. My father died in 2008, for the most he most part estranged from his five children. I was able to share a few words at his simple funeral.
When I focus on my father’s upbringing, I find myself better able to understand him, to see the little boy in his soul searching for a daddy he never knew.
I believe my grandmother, who I never met, took the photo of my father shown in the featured photo above around 1939 when he was visiting a California beach. He seems to be looking for someone to play with, to enjoy life with, to hear those words of affirmation, “I love you, I am here for you, your life matters, you are able.”
My heart is heavy today. I’ve been working through many of my childhood memories, considering my father’s actions and those of my mother, pondering how they impacted my early days. I may share some of that later as the memories and experiences may prove helpful to others.
But, for now, I encourage all of you who are fathers to remember the impact your words and actions have on your children. Consider how God has gifted you with those young ones, and please don’t take your position for granted. Invest your words and your life in your children. You have a sacred obligation to help this new generation grow and do things you were never able to do.
I’ve now been able to forgive my dad. I’m striving to see him as the dad he could have been, the one who would have been there for me, the one who would have known his father’s love and who would have been able to share that with me.
And, on this Father’s Day, I honestly can say, I love you, dad. I wish you were here.