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Gifts from My Imperfect Father

A Father's Day message from Ben Cathey.

Gifts from My Imperfect Father

My dad is not perfect. He is far from it. He will admit that fact to you boldly and without apology. He missed some of my best days. I hate the fact that my family of origin was torn apart years ago. There was even a nine-year silence between me and my father while he hit bottom and finally found freedom from substance abuse. I have painful memories of my father from childhood into adulthood.

But I am thankful for my father.

During that nine-year silence I found out quickly that it is better to have an imperfect father than to have an absent one. My dad is involved in my life again. Not perfectly, but in his own “mistake laden – days gone by – I’m sorry I missed the birth of your children” kind of way. He reintroduced himself again to me several years ago with a random phone call. It’s funny how nine years later you know instantly whose voice is speaking to you on the other end of the line. I’m glad my dad called, and I’m glad he is back in my life. I’ve gained a lot from dad, even in his imperfect, challenging, sometimes regrettable presence in my life.

Gifts from my father:

1. Humor – my dad is a funny guy. He is always looking for a good joke or a humorous perspective on things. I remember staying up at night with him to watch “Saturday Night Live” when I was way too young to be sitting by his side. We laughed. He introduced me to Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and even George Carlin. We laughed together. He taught me that laughter was important.

2. Passion For Life – my dad enjoys the simple things in life. He used to tell me that there are only two things that money can’t buy: true love and homegrown tomatoes. He always knew the details and the character of a thing beyond mere branding. As a salesman by trade he could talk about almost anything. We never looked at the sky; we looked at the way the sky predicted a certain weather pattern, or at an astrological formation, or at one of the phases of the moon . . . the meanings of which were often tied to something emotional or spiritual beyond the bounds of science. He presented life as bigger than facts, something to be experienced, breathed, understood, and lived!

3. Good Music – my dad loved good music. He still does. His musical knowledge reminds a little of Randy Jackson on American Idol. It does not matter the genre, he almost always knows a little something about it. We used to have record parties, just sitting around listening to vinyl albums, hearing the scratch of the needle, pulling another record from a colorful album jacket, then doing it again. He introduced me to The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Van Morrison, Waylon Jennings, Harry Chapin. He used to love Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “10,000 Pounds of Bananas” songs. We’ve lived out most of “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I guess every father and son do at some level.

4. Belief in Myself – my dad never let me back down from a challenge. He always told me I could do whatever the challenge was: Pro football player? Yes. Hike the whole Appalachian Trail? Yes. Be an architect? Yes. Accept a calling to full-time pastoral ministry? Yes. One of his biggest yeses was attending Auburn University. I knew he didn’t have the money. I didn’t have the money. But off to Auburn I went. My dad assured me that if Auburn was the best school for me, then that’s where I needed to go. We would work out the details later. Boy, did we work out the details. I worked. I took a semester off to make money. I got a full scholarship one year. Our house foreclosed my junior year. My dad would pat me on the back and tell me to empty the pantry and hand me $20 for gas (yes, those were the days) on the way back to school. He said we would make it. I believed him, and we did. Today I am a proud graduate from Auburn University. In fact, after failing first grade, I’ve gone on not only to graduate from Auburn but also to earn a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree. Thanks for believing in me, Dad!

5. Love for Family – beyond all of my dad’s mistakes and beyond the really difficult year when his behavior was at its worst and my parents’ relationship was almost nonexistent, I’ve never doubted that my dad loved me and wanted the best for me. I think that’s the best gift a parent can give a child and the most difficult one for a child to come to terms with when it is withdrawn. Everyone needs to know that their dad wants the best for them. My dad told me he loved me a million times, and he proved it by doing his best to provide for me and by hardly ever missing a game, a graduation, or any other occasion outside the nine-year silence.

I’m thankful for my imperfect dad. I love my dad. Why? He loves me, and he’s my dad. Love on your imperfect dad a little today, even if you just call to ask him how he is doing.



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