Turning Ugly Beasts Back Into Good Fathers

Illustration from Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Do you ever feel like an ugly beast?

Over an evening meal last week, I snapped at one of my kids in front of the entire family. The issue was valid, but the way I handled it was unkind. And here’s the thing, I knew I was acting like a jerk-dad about three words into my tirade. But, embarrassingly, I didn’t stop, and by the time I had finished my rant, I felt like something out of Where the Wild Things Are.

Frustrated, mostly with myself, I left the room and finished my meal on the front porch, alone. Isolating myself made me feel even more immature. For the next 24 hours, I felt like a failure as a father.

The Enemy of our soul loves to sideline us fathers by making us feel like ugly beasts. If he can make us feel childish and ashamed, he knows he’s got us. For me, moments like the one last week make me question whether or not I have anything good to contribute to my children, or whether or not they’re ever going to want to listen to me again. Being honest, they make me feel like I’ve become Scary Dad.

I remember the first time I saw the Scary Dad category. It was about twelve years ago. I was a new pastor, and a husband and wife from our town asked to meet with me. When they sat down in my office, the wife nodded toward her husband, and said, “He’s just mean to us. The kids and I love it when he goes to work, and dread it when he comes home. Our family is at our best when he goes out of town—that’s when we have fun and relax.”

My own kids were young, at that point—4, 2, and almost 1—and I remember thinking, “I’m not sure there’s anything that terrifies me more than the idea that my family might prefer my absence.” From that moment on, every time I overreact, or say something harsh or unkind, I hear a voice in my head, saying: “Well, you finally did it… you’re now officially a card carrying Scary Dad.”

I meet with men all the time who see themselves as carrying this card. This is serious, because when a father feels ugly and defeated, he tends to behave ugly and defeated. We act according to our view of ourselves., so if we think of ourselves as a monster, we’re going to act monsterishly.

So, the question for us fathers is: After a bad moment, how do we stop feeling ugly and start feeling like good fathers again?

There’s only one way.

We’ve got to ask for forgiveness from the people to whom we’ve been ugly.

The act of asking for forgiveness, and receiving it, is a mysterious thing. When a father feels the weight of his offense, and asks his children to forgive him of it, he’s giving his children a chance to help restore, not only the relationships, but the father’s view of himself. Grace, through the ones we’ve wronged, carries unspeakable power to clean our consciences and renew our vision for being good and godly men.

It took me about 24 hours of carrying my Scary Dad card before I realized I could shred it up and be done with it. I knew the path…I just had to take it. Over the evening meal that next day, I asked my family to forgive me. I cried a bit as I explained the ways I felt like I could have handled things better. I also asked them to be patient with me, because I knew that I’d fail again at some point. I couldn’t offer them future perfection, but I could demonstrate a sincere desire to grow in my ability to love them.

Do you know what happened? They moved toward me. They hugged me and said several things to me that made me feel like a good dad again. Their grace cleaned off the mud that my Enemy had kicked in my face. That’s the power of forgiveness – it sends the ugly beast out of the home and back to where the wild things are.

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