A Note from Mary Margaret West: Emily Katherine’s honesty and vulnerability are all over today’s post, and I’m really grateful for her willingness to share from her experience. While you may or may not have a girl in your life that has lost her father, there are girls who are hurting and need Godly men and women in their lives to stand in the gap for them. Will you be one of them?
This month marks three years since my earthly Father reached his Heavenly home. It was the day I turned 22 and every day since has been marked by a stark difference due to his absence. A difference that started as grief and transitioned to lack.
I never imagined I would be one to pick up the torch of fatherlessness in many of my circles, considering I had a Dad so very faithful to his God, family, and church that the day of his funeral I had the word faithful tattooed on my arm between the EKG of his last heart beats. Yet as my story dramatically changed, fatherlessness became a part of my story. A part of my story that is all too common in our world as one in three homes are fatherless. While my story is unique as I had my dad until my senior year of college and did not lose him to absence or divorce, I have come to learn a great deal about caring for and discipling this group of people that are so very near and dear to my heart.
I can’t claim to be an expert as the journey of fatherlessness is even new for me, but here are a few things I’ve learned.
Fatherlessness has many forms.
I am fatherless due to death, yet others may be fatherless due to divorce, not ever knowing their birth father, adoption, addiction, or a father who is emotionally absent from the home. It is important to note that as I interact with girls whose fathers are emotionally absent from the home due to work, selfishness, or any other reasons, they face many similar challenges as those who are fatherless due to loss or divorce.
Fatherlessness is still not normal.
The lack of a father in the home has become “normalized” in our culture, especially in certain demographics, yet the experience never feels normal. And there are reminders everywhere. There are father/daughter and father/son events. Father’s Day reminds us annually. Homecoming courts often ask for fathers to escort their daughters. Movies and commercials represent homes with two parents and while the statistics represent a different world, the world around us consistently magnifies the lack we already feel deep in our hearts.
Fatherlessness makes relationships with the opposite sex complicated.
As a fatherless girl, I resent the stigma that when a girl has a poor or limited relationship with her dad, she seeks male affirmation through inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex, because I wanted to believe I was different. But I can tell from my experience there was a stark difference in my heart when I was relating to guys as Daryl Dalton’s daughter and when I was relating to guys fatherless. Thankfully, I noticed the difference and worked through it with close others to seek healthy relationships with the opposite sex, but I have even found it harder to relate to middle aged men, because I have lost my model of healthy relationships with men his age. Relationships with the opposite sex are not just complicated for the fatherless romantically, but spiritually and emotionally.
I would greatly recommend ensuring small groups and Sunday school classes have both genders speaking into the lives of your students.
Fatherlessness complicates your relationship with the Church.
This traditionally begins as mothers may feel uncomfortable involving themselves at church as a single mom or following a divorce made public in the life of the church. Such a drift in attendance, affiliation, and trust often becomes a part of their children’s stories as well. Furthermore, as church events and leadership boards are formed assuming each household is represented by a male, the relationship with the church only becomes more complicated.
Fatherlessness complicates your relationship with God.
Someone who has had their dad a part of their entire lives may never feel uncomfortable calling God their “Heavenly Father” or using “Father” metaphors to explain God. For others of us these metaphors may call us to enter the numbness we have created to hide beneath when we are triggered in church services by such imagery. While I have faced such hurt in losing my dad, I have heard stories of other girls faced with the pain of these images in the church when their dads were their abusers. This is not to say we stop referring to God as our Father, but that we are mindful of the fatherless in our messages and metaphors.
I, as is the case for many in this category, never imagined I would call myself fatherless and the truth is that in the grace and relentless pursuit of Jesus, I have again embraced my Father. Yet, the physical lack when I needed help moving out of my dorm or when my car got a flat tire never got easier. And the life of the fatherless cannot be made easier. Our job as ministers is not to be fathers to the fatherless, but to point them to the Father, never overlooking the great difficulty and pain they face daily, but meeting them in their lack and complications with grace, love, and hope.
Emily Katherine Dalton grew up in Spartanburg, SC and now lives in Rome, GA where she graduated from Berry College, studying Psychology and Spanish. She now serves as an assistant coordinator with the WinShape College Program as she is pursuing a Master of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Emily Katherine loves volunteering with middle school and high school girls in her church’s student ministry and working in college ministry. She is a coffee lover, book reader, blogger, and a big fan of a paper planner.