Father’s Day is fast approaching. It is that time of the year when we stop to thank and celebrate the wonderful role that our own fathers have had in our lives. For this month’s article in Catholic Stand, allow me to honor the fathers among you.
A Father Who Listens
A few years back, I remember attending a spiritual retreat. One of the reflection questions that was asked in the retreat was: “Who created an image of God in your life?” As I was praying over the question, I began to remember my own relationship with my father.
My father died when I was nine year old. He died in a tragic car accident while on a business trip to one of the provinces in Northern Philippines. I clearly remember that on the day he died, he dropped off my mom and me at a movie house in Manila. And before I entered the movie house, he called me back to his car and simply said to me, “Mon, when I come back, tell me the story of the movie that you saw.”
Sad to say that night he met his tragic end. The next time I saw him, he was he already lying lifeless inside the coffin. As I approached his coffin for the first time, I remembered his last words to me. Thus, in the middle of tears, I found myself talking to my father and telling him the story of the movie I just saw.
I had a close relationship with my father while growing up. Although, he would always be out on long business trips, he would always find time to talk with me whenever he was around our house. And the best experiences I have of him were the times where he would just bring me to the breakwater facing the world-famous sunset of Manila Bay. It was here that he gave me the fullest attention as I told him the stories that transpired in my life in the days that he was out of the house.
Sometimes, he would just remain silent as I told him my little stories and problems. Yet I felt that, behind his silence, he was really listening to me.
Looking back as a grown adult, I often wonder how my petty problems as a young boy would be of concern to my father. I am sure that the concerns I told him were no match to the things that he was thinking about at that time. Yet he gave me his fullest attention. I have never outgrown the habit of telling stories to my father. Even now, when I visit his grave, I still continue doing what I did as a kid. I still continue to tell my life stories to him.
The image of my dad as a listening father has stuck with me. And as I tried to answer that question regarding who created an image of God in my life, I knew in my heart that it was my father.
Each of us will have a different image of our earthly fathers. He is a provider. He is a protector. He is a disciplinarian. He is a friend. He is a guide. He is even a hero. For me, the one quality that simply stood out in my father was that he was a listener.
Just like the way we visualize our earthly fathers, each of us would also have a different picture of God. He is a protector. He is a provider. He is a Saviour. He is a creator. He is everything. He is almighty. For me, the one quality that I know God will always have is, like my father, God always listens.
A God Who Listens
Scripture is full of stories about a God who knows how to listen. In Genesis, we find how Abraham bargained with God for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18:16-33). In Exodus, we become witnesses how God listens to the pleas of the Israelites and becomes their liberator (see Exodus 2:23-25). In the first book of Samuel, we find how God hears the prayer of David for strength and He grants him victory over Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:12-52) In the first book of Kings, we see how God listens to the widow of Zarephath, and through Elijah, how He prevents this widow from dying of hunger (see 1 Kings 17:8-16)
When we turn to the new Testament, we find Jesus reminding his followers to keep trusting the goodness of the Father, because he will listen to their concerns. He speaks of God as a Father who will give to those who ask, who will open the door to those who knock, and who will allow people to find what they seek for (see Matthew 7:7) .
Jesus does not only teach about a God who listens; he himself becomes the concrete manifestation of a God who has the concerns of his people close to his heart. In the many miracle stories of Jesus, we find how he first bends his ear to listen to the desire of the person in front of him.
There are even instances wherein Jesus is able to hear the voice of a person in great need amidst the noise around him. In the healing of the Bartimaeus the blind man, we see how he continued to shout at the top of his voice as the entourage of Jesus passed him by. The warnings of the crowd for Bartimaeus to keep quiet does not deter him from shouting all the more. In the end, Jesus heard his voice and he was granted his sight (see Mark 10:46-52) .
The God who bends down to listen. The God who hears our plea for help in the midst of the noise around us. The God who calls us to have a dialogue with him. The God who is interested in our own daily and personal stories. This is the God-image that I learned from my very own father.
The Challenge Today
How I wish and pray that more and more fathers can create this very beautiful “God” image to their children today. In order to do that, they must be able to offer to their children their presence. I speak here not only of a physical presence but more so of an “emotional presence”.
Emotional presence is the presence that the father gives to his child when he is fully attuned to the things that is happening in his child’s life. It is a presence that allows a father to be there when his child seeks strength in weakness, comfort in pain. It is a presence that gives times to truly listen to the growing up stories of a child. It is a presence that calls a father to be fully engaged in the life of his child as he grows into adulthood.
The challenge of fatherhood today is a challenge of presence. Pope Francis himself says, “ We often hear that ours is a ‘society without fathers.’ In Western culture [I would say even in our current Philippine society], the father figure is said to be symbolically absent, missing or vanished. … In our day, the problem no longer seems to be the overbearing presence of the father so much as his absence, his not being there.” (Amoris Laetitia § 176)
Today there is a call to reclaim the presence of the father in the lives of their children. When fathers become truly present in the lives of their kids, when they truly show interest in their little stories, when they truly lend their attention and listening ear to them, I do believe that they also start imprinting the image of God in their children.
A listening father can help a child realise that God is also a listening father. A father who takes time to hear the stories of his child can help a child realise that God is also interested in his life.
As we celebrate the beauty of fatherhood this coming Father’s Day, let us thank God for our very own fathers. In their own small way, they have shaped the image of God that we might have today. And for all the dads out there: may your relationships with your kids paint for them an image of a God who truly listens and cares.