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How Pope Francis gave me hope for my son, whose dad won’t show up for Father’s Day

Antoine Mekary/ALETEIA
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There is one Father who won't ever abandon us

Every year as June rolls around, we know Father’s Day is approaching.

It seems everyone’s planning a family BBQ, or headed to Grandpa’s for the annual festivities. Signs broadcast Father’s Day cards and restaurant specials. Parishes have special events and blessings for dads at the end of each Mass. The golf clubs have Father’s Day tournaments, the beach clubs have special dinners… all in all, you’re expected to be with your dad!

And under normal circumstances, that’s what everyone wants to do. But it can naturally be a sentimental day for those who have lost their fathers, and worse, I think, is the feeling of those whose fathers abandoned them as young children.

Just last week, in his June 7 general audience, Pope Francis said that one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith is that we have a God who wants us to call Him “Father.” Jesus tells us that God is a good Father and that He never leaves us. He wants us to call on Him in prayer over and over.

Like many others, my son didn’t have a dad growing up, and that made seeing God the Father as a father even more important.

My older son’s father left when he wasn’t even walking yet. Twenty-two years later, he’s still almost non-existent in my son’s life, seeing him generally every few years.

In the early years after my son’s father first left, I was sure my ex would soon come to some kind of introspection and want to make up for lost time. Who wouldn’t miss their own child? I thought. I assumed some kind of soul-searching would bring clarity, and would bring him to seek out this little boy I adored. For a long time, I was too angry to pray for my son’s father, butI fervently prayed for my son to be okay, to feel loved, for God to protect him from feelings of rejection (the research on being raised without a dad around is heartbreaking).

When my son made his First Communion, and then Confirmation, when his birthdays came around, and each Christmas as my son was ignored, I’d lash out at his father by email: “How can you do this to him? He knows you could’ve been there! Can you even try to imagine what that feels like!?”

But my emails went into a black hole with no response. For each school event or Little League game or Boy Scout event, my heart broke for my son as the only kid without a dad there — except once in a while when a child’s father had died.

On Father’s Day, my son would know there was no chance he’d be hanging out with friends, because they were all doing “Father’s Day stuff.”

Yet God the Father is always there for us, Pope Francis reminds us. Jesus tells us to turn to the Father with confidence, never closing ourselves off from Him.

“All of our necessities, from the most obvious and every day such as food, health and work, to being forgiven and sustained in temptations are not the mirror of our solitude: there is a Father who is always there looking with love, and who surely does not abandon us,” he said.

“The entire mystery of Christian prayer is summed up here, in this word: to have the courage to call God by the name of Father. He tells us, ‘Do not be afraid,'” Francis said, adding that the Apostle Paul uses the Aramaic word, “Abba.” This phrase is “a term more intimate than father, and is sometimes translated as papa or daddy.”

Somewhere along the way I got tuned in to St. Joseph as head of the Holy Family, and started praying for him to watch out for my son, too. I prayed for emotional protection, for the anger to subside, and especially for him to eventually come to forgive his father. I also finally started praying for an end to my own anger and to be able to forgive the man who had hurt us so much. Only after I’d forgiven him and let go of my anger (mostly!) was I able to actually pray for my ex-husband.

Through prayer, God allowed me to reflect on his own distant relationship with his own father, as well as a gaping spiritual void. While not excusing his abandonment, it allowed me to see him as troubled and hurting himself, rather than intentionally seeking to cause us pain.

These days my prayer is for him to find God, who is his Father too. I believe it’s the only way he can be healed enough to reach out to our son.

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