Do you know your father?
It is a valid question, considering the epidemic that is fatherlessness in America. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau’s data, one in three children are approaching this Father’s Day without gifts to bear for a man who either never was, or no longer is - and that’s on a national level. When we look at New Mexico, the statistic runs closer to sixty percent - nearly double the national average as a whole, with higher numbers in hispanic and native american minority groups.
My mother-in-law, who has worked at various Albuquerque hospitals in Prenatal Care & Delivery for thirty-plus years, estimates that perhaps seventy-five percent of the women she delivers do so without men at their side - their children necessarily without fathers to hold or cherish them. Seventeen years later, the lack of a father-figure largely manifests itself in the need for my sister-in-law’s vocation with the APD Gang Unit and DEA, as two-hundred-plus gangs in Albuquerque alone seek out la familia that was lacking in adolescence.
Ours is a culture largely defined by what is absent from it, and yet there is a deep, in-dwelt longing for community. Brotherhood. Family.
Did you know your father?
Perhaps yours isn’t the story of total neglect - perhaps yours is the story of loss, or infidelity. Perhaps your father was a dedicated family man, and you were cast as a statistic upon his death, or his divorce, or the day that he threw in the towel and decided he had enough, and disappeared.
That was the case for my father. His dad disappeared when he was four years old, and his family fell apart at the seams. When he married my mother, he vowed that his would be a family unbroken by divorce or abandonment. Two years ago, though, I joined the growing ranks of fatherless children when my dad committed suicide in a hotel bathroom just east of Albuquerque’s International District - a neighborhood more historically known as the “War Zone” - where my aforementioned in-law works due to high volumes of poverty, drugs and crime. The War Zone was rebranded by the state in 2009, apparently, for the sake of forward thinking that has yet to translate into much forward motion.
There is something wrong with our stories that a positive perception cannot change. Ours is a culture stuck in quicksand, and while we should pursue the welfare of our city, semantics alone will not do the job. We need saving before all the shifting pulls us deeper into the pit.
Is it mere irony that our culture so highly values and influences New Mexican family, and yet we boast some of the highest numbers in a generation growing up without a father-figure present at home? As a city whose foundations are largely religious, and where Catholicism and native spiritualities continue to reign, it is to true religion in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we must turn to understand the real “War Zone” in which we find ourselves.
Satan is in the business of destroying families.
In Genesis 3, the serpent - the enemy of God - lied to our first parents in an effort to disrupt their relationship with the Father. He succeeded, and a family created in perfection was marred by sin and death, even death by murder. “And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4:8). This familial and societal degeneration grew so heinous that Scripture tells us that God was grieved to the point of regretting creating man, and the rest of history recounts tragedy after tragedy as the enemy works to inflame the effects of sin and hurt which devastate us to this day.
Frankly, if I were the dad of a world full of people with our repertoire, I might just bounce, myself. But that is not what God did. Instead of abandoning us, he provides for and relates to us as Father. Instead of aborting us, He sent his son, Jesus, into the world to save us by taking the just sentence of death that we deserve, and rising back to life to crush that deceitful serpent.
Jesus knows what it is like to be separated from his dad. When he was crucified, he asked his dad why he had forsaken him (Matt. 27:46). Why does any of this matter to those of us approaching Father’s Day without a dad to celebrate with? Because Jesus was separated from his dad so that we could be united with him.
Satan is in the business of destroying families. God is in the business of adopting children into his - the church. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God places the lonely in families.” (Ps 68:5-6). My dad loved that verse. He used to say that he felt like Jesus gave him the church as a second chance to have a real family of his own. Now that I’ve experienced the pain of that brokenness, I know what he means.
“Father” is a convoluted word in Albuquerque. It’s a conflicted word in my mind. But to think that we could have a dad again - one who loved us enough to sacrifice his son so that we could call him that - that’s amazing. He invited me to be a part of a really big family at Mars Hill Church here in town, where we don’t do anything perfectly, but we try our best to extend our arms to the people that our dad extends his arms to - this city. I’d invite you to celebrate Father’s Day with us this year, because we have the best Dad to celebrate with.
You can know your Father.
Levi Macallister is a son.