I'm going to fail you.

Dear Liam,

The list of ways I've failed you is already quite long, and unfortunately, I'm certain it will only get longer. I'm terribly sorry about that. Please know I have never and will never intend to hurt you. Yet despite my best intentions not to, I know I will hurt you. Not physical hurt, but the kind that's often even more painful: emotional hurt. I'm an imperfect parent, a flawed human being, and frankly, I'm not the father you deserve.

However, I think I'm in good company. My friend Joel, a father whose parenting skills I admire, once told me "all parents mess up their children, it's just a matter of how." I was shocked when he said it, because I always thought of him as the perfect dad. Yet the more I've discussed the hypothesis with other fathers and sons, the more agreement I get. Each son I know has been hurt by his father, and each father I know laments how he has "screwed up" his children.

I'm not attempting to use this reality as an excuse, but rather to setup an expectation. Joel also told me how when parents accept responsibility for the ways they hurt their children, it can be a time of healing and grace. I hope he's right. I'd like to acknowledge your hurt ahead of time in order to help prepare the path to healing and grace. You are welcome to tell me about your hurt at any time, and I promise I will listen, and I will not belittle your pain. I may ask questions to clarify and better understand your perspective, but I will not blow you off. If it's an active hurt, we can discuss how I can change my behavior to prevent future hurt. If it's something from the past that you just need to get off your chest, that's okay, too. I want to hear you out.

When Joel was telling me about this concept, he shared a story from his own childhood. He said one time he disobeyed his dad, and his dad got angry at him. He punished him and said some mean things to Joel. Later, Joel's father came to his room and apologized for the hurtful things he said. Joel still had to endure the punishment for disobeying his father, he didn't get off the hook, but his dad made it clear that just because parents have a responsibility to punish their children doesn't mean they have carte blanche to speak to them however they want. There is a right way to communicate to our children, and there is a wrong way. Even though Joel disobeyed his dad, his dad still asked Joel to forgive him.

I bet we'll have similar situations in the future, and I want to act with the wisdom and humility of Joel's father. I may not completely commute your sentence when you disobey, but I will take responsibility when I go too far. I will hear you out if you think my punishment crossed from justified into emotional hurt. I will be quick to acknowledge my failures and swift to ask forgiveness. You don't need to be afraid to tell me how you're feeling. I may not be the dad you deserve, but I want to be.

While my love for you won't be perfect and will include failures on my part, God will always love you perfectly. When I fail to be there for you, He will be by your side. When you don't think I understand you, He will know your heart fully. While I may be the one of the people who first tells you about God, that doesn't mean He's always on my side nor always endorses what I say. While I may know the Bible better than you, that doesn't mean I know God better than you. He is just as much your Father as mine. My failures are not God's failures, and I don't want your perspective of God to be tarnished by my mistakes. So when I fail you, reach out to Him. Tell Him how you feel. Do not be afraid to express your frustration.

I love you, God loves you, and you've got what it takes.


That time we all desperately needed an afternoon nap.