March 23, 1993
An ad in a Madrid newspaper said: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. The next Saturday, 800 boys named Paco were standing outside the door of that newspaper office looking for their fathers.
As a mother, I enjoy the special bond I have with my daughter. We are friends who share ideas and activities that do not interest the male members of our family. While we did not always experience this camaraderie, it is a relationship well worth nourishing and preserving.
As an observer, I also know the special relationship between a father and son. How delicate and important that relationship is to the emotional well-being of both. Deprived of the affection and attention of his father, a son’s identity is challenged. Some men spend their entire lives trying to impress a father who would never say “Son, I am proud of you.” Some spend years fighting with the desperate feeling that dad never loved, wanted, or had any interest in them. To lose or never have a father’s acceptance is devastating.
There is a tremendous spiritual principle behind this parent-child relationship: children (and many adults) tend to think of God as somehow being like their parents, especially like their father. Thus the earthly relationship they have (or don’t have) affects the Heavenly one that is possible with God. Thinking God is like dad causes many people to pull away from Him and want nothing to do with Him. At the very least, this confusion of identity can be frustrating and interfere with having a deep relationship with the Lord.
Both myself and my husband found ourselves in this situation. While we could mentally assent that God is not the same as our dads, it has been a struggle to really believe it down deep where our beliefs affect everything we do.
Since dads are the only models with the title “Father,” those who do know very little about God may not even realize there is a conflict in their perception. This is one reason why people from abusive situations find it difficult, or even impossible, to worship and serve a heavenly Father. How could such a One love them when their own fathers did not?
But even those with the most loving and supportive parents know there is no perfect human father, nor does anyone have a perfect understanding of the perfection of God.
While this concept adds a challenging dimension to the already awesome responsibility of raising children, it does not have to be overwhelming. Fathers (and mothers) cannot be perfect models of God for their children, but we can still teach them what God is like and admit that we fall short. That promotes awareness of the differences so they will not attribute God with our less than perfect characteristics.
The story of the 800 Pacos is touching. It illustrates a deep need of the heart — everyone wants to be loved and in the full favor of their father. Since this is not always the case with earthly fathers, that is why the gospel is such good news. It is God’s advertisement — calling His little ones to come and meet with Him, not at the front door of a newspaper office, but at the foot of the Cross where each one finds forgiveness and acceptance. With Him, it is as the psalmist declared: “If my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”