The lesson manual said that God loves us with "fatherly care" and "a paternal regard." The woman leading the lesson pointed out that even those of us who lacked strong relationships with fathers had a Heavenly Father, but for once that was no comfort to me. Why? Well, I had no idea what "fatherly care" and "paternal regard" meant. Frankly, only one male person has ever told me he loved me, and when he then broke my heart and told me he'd never really loved me a month later... well, you can imagine how little water it held. No male, related or otherwise, has said those words to me before or since. It's still amazing to me that men love anyone at all. Don't get me wrong - I know they do, it just amazes me still.
I used to struggle with the concept of God's love for me, simply because it was hard to believe that a man could love anyone. (And I do belong to a faith where we believe that God is a man). When I finally recognized the male potential to love, I was proud of the progress I'd made. Now I could believe that God loved me, despite his sex/gender. But I always separated his love for me from his sex/gender, rather than connecting the two. So today, when I saw his love referred to as a fatherly thing... well, it confused me. It was like someone had told me "God loves you like a King loves his subjects" or "like a fish loves a bird" and expected me to be happy about it.
I wanted to ask for an explanation, but I knew I'd reveal my family background if I did. And while I'm not ashamed that my father abused me, I rather dislike vulnerability. So instead I frowned at the lesson manual for almost the entire lesson, growing more confused with each word the class members spoke. Finally, when I couldn't take it anymore, I decided to bare my confusion rather than put up a pretense of toughness. I raised my hand and said, "I have no idea what these terms mean. With my family background, I simply can't understand what a fatherly care and paternal regard even are. Does anyone have any ideas?"
The girl who was teaching the lesson told me she didn't have an answer either but opened up the discussion to the class. And it was amazing. They shared stories about their fathers that flummoxed me. Nothing radical, like their fathers sacrificing everything for them. Just the little things that probably seemed mundane to them until I came along and said I had no frame of reference for that term. Little things about their fathers wanting them to be happy and wanting to spend time with them, and listening and talking to them.
And suddenly I realized that my father's behavior hadn't just brought something bad into my life. It had also removed something beautiful, something good. I'm still reeling from that discovery, though I feel like it's something I've known for years, at least deep down. Parenthood is important, whatever form it may take.