Father’s Day gives us stepchildren a peek into a fantasy: happier lives, deeper relationships, warmer memories, cherished photographs lining the walls of social media. Families still together, faithful dads, strong dads, healthy dads, dads who didn’t leave, dads who loved their wives enough to keep their families together. We may not have those things. We may have bitterness. Or jealousy. Or loneliness. On Father’s Day, our fantasies can be overcome by the reminders of our step-ness: sermons on the importance of fathers, a mandatory lunch with our dad (or step-dad), a squall of tagged father-child photos, memories of a father’s untimely death, all telling us that we’re cut in half.
One volume on the subject calls these realities ghosts at our table: “Children are bound to absent parents, adults to past lives, and past marriages. These invisible psychological bonds are the Ghosts at the Table, and . . . they play on the most elemental emotions — emotions like love and loyalty and guilt and fear” (Stepfamilies, 4).
Father’s Day can be even lonelier in church. An original, complete, all-the-pieces-included family can feel not only like a status symbol, but also like an access card into community and belonging.
Fortunately, one loving Father meets us in the experience of the stepchild in more ways than one.
1. God untangles our emotional knots.
Growing up, I felt guilty for time spent with my stepfather, because I felt like I was betraying my dad, who did not remarry — as if any fun I might have with my mom’s new husband would make my dad feel like a loser. I wanted him always to be certain of my love. Even now, after my father has passed away, I still have an impulse to honor him by resisting any stepfamily enjoyment.
Our stepfamily context can feel a lot like the Wild West, with every son and daughter fighting for themselves, protecting their cherished ghosts. Where does God come into this? God untangles our “mixed families” with three strings: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).