From Fatherlessness to Faith: Dysfunction with a New Start

13 April 2022

2.2 MINS

Despite the failings and traumas handed down from past generations, with the grace of God, we can break free of toxic cycles and build a far better future for our children. Those who grow up hurting from being fatherless can learn from our parents’ mistakes and develop into life-giving, dedicated fathers.

Like every single one of our five kids, wearing the dad hat was for me a cliched process of having to learn to crawl before I walked.

Once past the dizzy, surreal, “Gey, I’m actually a dad” phase, my life as a dad looked more like a traineeship than a masterclass.

Having little to no examples of what healthy fatherhood is, was, or what healthy fatherhood even looked like, every metaphorical hands-and-feet advance was a literal basic training moment.

Generational Trauma

For as far back as I have been able to go, the broader pattern of my family’s history is a continuous cycle of pain, separation, fatherlessness, divorce, and death.

As my tight-lipped late grandmother’s 83-year-old sister often states,
“Why do you want to know? There’s not much, if anything, there to celebrate.”

The “scrapbook” family album is a disfigured family tree, mangled by a century of dysfunction, enough to be the envy of goth poets like Edger Allen Poe when they were at their darkest.

There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. This makes the few special examples worth cheering on, all the brighter.

Like my great-great-grandparents who, with five children, including a newborn, travelled from Scotland to Australia in a converted tramp steamer in 1912.

A great-great-grandfather who worked on locomotives on the Western Front during World War 1. He was sent home a nervous wreck, because trains can’t dodge falling artillery shells or shell damaged tracks.

Stories matter. Learning about our genesis helps us to learn from others. No matter how broken — sin-packed, or sin-impacted — their lives offer a wealth of knowledge, and, with it, motivation.

Honour Thy Mother and Father

When talking about parents and children, flawed father, husband and theologian Karl Barth defined the fifth commandment in the light of education.

He stated,

‘The willingness to learn is the honour which is required of the children in relation to their parents.’

For Barth, to honour our forebears is to learn from their instruction, steering new life away from their paths of destruction. We preserve the good, shear off the bad.

Not all suffering comes from God, but God works through all suffering.

Ever the Christian, Barth infers that the ‘light of grace’ can pierce even the darkest, or most shattered, cruel, cold and silent of disfigured family trees.

In Barth’s words,

‘The Fatherhood of God lends its meaning and value to human form.’

This is because,

‘No human father, but God alone is properly, truly, and primarily Father.’

The value of vocation is intricately entwined with the importance of stories.

Our hands and feet are charged to ‘imitate God’s action’: a genuine emulation forged by a healthy grasp of HIS-story, and with it, humility and honesty.

Crawling through my family history taught me the importance and the value of fatherhood as a vocation. I was born a father out of fatherlessness.

I was its raw recruit pioneering a way through the muck of past dysfunctional experiences. Its basic training taught me to be responsible for the life of a new family, creating a new history, alongside new memories, with new people, into newness of life.


First published at Dads4Kids. Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

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