When you think of bad, absent, fictional dads, Darth Vader has to top the list. Here’s a guy who couldn’t get over the pain of losing his wife (I acknowledge, that’s pretty terrible) so he abandons his morals, two beautiful kids, proceeds to go on a power trip of galactic proportions, and chops off his son’s arm in The Empire Strikes Back.

The most famous line from the entire series comes when Lord Vader looks at Luke Skywalker and declares over him, “I AM YOUR FATHER,” as Luke screams, “No!” This was LucasFilms’ best kept secret hidden even from the cast with a fake line during the shoot which was dubbed over in post-production.

I saw a lot of parallels. Not only was my dad’s infidelity the best kept secret in my family (mom decided to keep it under the radar for 12 years hoping he’d come back home one day), I stopped keeping track of how many times I’d imagine that iconic scene over my own situation. Every time I reminded myself of who my dad really was, I felt like Skywalker jumping off the rail to continue fighting my own galactic battle against dad.

But, I didn’t have the hope of the Rebel forces. All I had in my corner was a dumpster full of rotting anger and could only think of how I wasn’t going to be like him. I was going to be a faithful husband. An involved father. I was going to crush his tarnished legacy with all the right behaviors done in the most spiteful, angry way. No surprise: every time I tried to go against his legacy, I was reminded of him, and the anger persisted.

I was stuck. I had no idea how to chase away the anger, to send away the pain, or to even find purpose in my life beyond it.

So, I did what any good Christian boy would do: act like the pain didn’t exist.

Easing the Pain

The road to easing the pain isn’t an easy one. While absent, my dad somehow was always up to date with my newest career choices and never short on the disappointment. I’ll never forget the phone call I received when he found out I was going to be a pastor. It’s never fun to hear you’ve been “un-son-ed.”

I get it: it’s far more convenient to treat pain like radioactive waste than a mine of opportunity. Because, it hurts. We don’t want to lean into the discomfort of recalling all the moments where we’ve had to deal with hurt from our relationships.

The immediate path I settled on was the pain-numbing addiction of people pleasing. I wanted to get the attention and approval my dad didn’t give by making everyone else the dad I wish I had. If I pleased them and got a, “Great job! You’re wonderful, Billy!” I thought I would never be hurt again. Like any other addiction, I couldn’t get enough. The more I found approval, I hungered more of it from my dad who I knew wouldn’t give it the way I wanted it.

I got to the end of myself in realizing that no one could ultimately satisfy my desire. Then, the all-important truth clicked: I was demanding something from someone who didn’t have the capacity to give me what I wanted. And, realizing I was fighting a losing battle helped me have to dig what my heart was crying and angry for: a loving relationship with dad.

George MacDonald couldn’t have put it better: “The hardest, gladdest thing in the world is, to cry, ‘Father!’ from a full heart.” Through over a decade of processing hurt, anger, and pain, I see how I’ve been longing to call out, “Daddy,” from a full heart. I’ve been longing to have “Daddy” just there to be my Daddy.

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Pain Births Purpose

Pain is the widest door for us to draw out the raw passion that underlies our purpose. The reason? Our pain tells us what we’re willing to take a stand for. In other words, our collective, unique hurts and stories actually function as divine guides to lead us to be a voice for others presently hurting through our similar pain. Processed well, our pain can be a gift for others in pain.

As a college pastor, it means I’m not intimidated by younger men and women who have authority issues because of their own father-pains; I understand them. I speak up for them. I show them how to navigate and grieve through the loss so they can put an end to a destructive generational pattern and give birth to God’s family dream.

Pastor Steven Furtick says, “The same place where the nails were is the same place where the healing is.” Jesus modeled the response to pain best: the nails represented our sins and it was precisely for those nails He came to deliver healing for us.

I look at the healing and see my purpose: to empower for fullness (even out of loss). I’m not sure I would’ve known unless I started embracing the pain of not having my dad.

Because when we let pain be a part of our process, our process gives birth to purpose.

I thought it’d be nice to write my first letter to my dad in years (since junior high?) to really express my heart, today.

Letter to Dad

Hey Dad,

I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I couldn’t get to it because I was scared of what you’d think — what you’d say. But, six months ago I became a dad and realized if I can’t stand to miss a moment of his growth, how much you’re hurting not having seen mine.

Only now can I see there are a lot of things you probably regret. I’m sure it’s been hard to contact me because, frankly, you’re probably just as scared as I am. “What will he say?” “Will he reject me?” “Will he respond?”

Dad, I’ve actually come to a place where I’m thankful for you. Really. I’m sure it wasn’t easy between you and mom for different reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, but you still chose to send us money and a means to live until I got into college. I’ve seen a lot of dads who haven’t done half of that. Only when I became a husband and father did I realize how hard it is to support a growing family. You’re the daddy I needed. Thank you.

Dad, I can’t stop others from experiencing the loss of fatherlessness, but I can show them there’s more to bank on than loss — we can be empowered through it.

I miss you. I can’t wait until I can finally introduce you to your healthy grandson (I think he’s got the Kim family hairline!).

Longing for you (more than you know and, at times, I’d like to admit),