Never a Fatherless Child


Post Author: Collette Broady Preiss


This Father’s Day will be the first on which my son’s father is no longer my husband. He left me for another woman earlier this year, and though he has so far been faithful to the custody agreement with our son, I worry constantly about Ollie not having the kind of father he will need when he reaches his emotionally difficult tweens. (He’s only 2 right now, but I’m a mom, so I can worry far, far into the future.)

Ollie has two wonderful godfathers, who have already assured me that they will do what they can to teach him about being a good man, and my dad and brothers have said the same. But still, I worry. When he starts to wonder about relationships, who will help him be vulnerable, yet strong, honest and respectful? When he wants to know about sex (about which his father and I have very different opinions), who will tell him that it’s manly to wait until you’re really ready? When he struggles with the pressure to be tough and hide his real feelings, who will teach him that men can cry too?

I recently voiced some of these concerns to my dad, and he reminded me that he grew up mostly without a dad too. His father was killed in a coal mine accident when he was 11, just on the cusp of puberty. He said that while it was hard for him to grow up without a dad, that there was a vacancy in his life for a long time, he discovered a role model in God.

“I always wanted to have a family, to be a father,” he told me, “and I learned how from the Lord.” He reminded me that calling God our Heavenly Father is more than just a traditional, patriarchal metaphor. God exhibits all the traits and behaviors of the best parents: God loves, reprimands, forgives, guides, protects, teaches, encourages. As Martin Luther writes in his explanation of the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”

I know this is how my dad approaches his faith, seeking God’s guidance at every turn. He and my mom have told me for years that they began praying about being parents long before they had any of us, and that they have trusted God’s voice when parenting has been hardest. Sometimes they have even had to let one of us kids go for a while, trusting our Heavenly Father to care for us when we won’t let them.

I will do my best to be the mother that Ollie needs, and I will hope that his father will do the same. But, I will still worry, I’m sure. And when I do, I’ll remind myself that at baptism, Ollie was made God’s child too. This means that whether I keep my end of the parenting bargain, or whether his dad does, or whether any of his lovely godparents do what they have promised, Ollie will never be a fatherless child. By the loving guidance of his Heavenly Father, Ollie will grow in grace and truth and wisdom, and become the man he is meant to be. Thanks be to God!

Author’s Note, September 2012: I am pleased to say that many of my worries have proven unnecessary these months later. While I still maintain God is the only perfect parent my son will ever have, I want to publicly recognize his father for his consistent and positive efforts to give our son what he needs daily, and for continuing to live into the parenting agreements we have made.

Rev. Collette Broady Preiss is an ELCA pastor in Mankato, Minnesota serving a partnership between a large, city congregation and a small, country one. She is also a divorcing mother of Ollie, a precocious 2-year-old who makes her laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. She attended the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and will soon be celebrating the 8th anniversary of her ordination.

Photo by the author.


18 replies
  1. Lan Evenson
    Lan Evenson says:

    Pastor Collette penned a wonderful story. It is one I can reflect on in a personal way. My Father was killed in a farm accident when I was 6 months old. Over the course of my life God has guided me always.

    Reply
  2. Ruth Sorenson-Prokosch
    Ruth Sorenson-Prokosch says:

    Wonderful article. Thanks for the honesty about the fears and the examples of how others have navigated the terrain ahead. And yes, mothers can worry far, far into the future!

    Reply
  3. Jennifer Granville
    Jennifer Granville says:

    I feel truly bad for this little boy. Regardless of the situation with your former husband, regardless of his actions, to denegrate his father publically in this way is shameful. It isn’t representational of a good Christian character, nor is it something that you should be proud of. No doubt your son will have questions about his father and the choices that he has made. I wouldn’t doubt that he’ll have some questions for you and about you too. As the child of divorced parents, I know I wondered about both of my parents role in their divorce. I can only pray that he doesn’t someday Google and discover something like this, so undercutting someone integral in his life, by the other most integral person in his life. I can’t imagine how much this kind of behavior could add to his confusion later.

    Reply
      • Julie Klock
        Julie Klock says:

        (Sorry – late night fingers.) I don’t believe she denigrated his father at all. Facts are facts – if he left for another woman, that is what happened. Feelings are likewise feelings and she worries. It’s only natural.

        Shame on you for kicking someone who is already down!

        Reply
    • Collette Broady Preiss
      Collette Broady Preiss says:

      Thanks to all for the comments. And to Jennifer, I was actually very careful to say more than once in the article that my ex is doing a good job as father, and that my worry is sometimes out of proportion to the actual circumstance. I will be glad to explain this article to my son if he someday reads it, and I know there are many questions coming. I did not say anything untrue, or mean-spirited, or that I regret.

      Reply
      • Jennifer Granville
        Jennifer Granville says:

        Hello,
        I don’t believe I’m kicking anyone while there are down, I am simply expressing that as a child of divorced parents, this kind of article reads as something truly detrimental. And Ms. Preiss, you certainly don’t say even once that your ex is doing a good job, you say he is sticking to the custody agreement, which could be anything, and then you continue to reflect on why not having a father at all or a father who is dead is manageable, as long as the child is in God’s hands. That is a message of faith that I find beautiful, if it weren’t couched in such a way.

        Reply
    • Jenny Sjogreen
      Jenny Sjogreen says:

      I do not think her former husband is written down in any way. This is not about him, this is about Collettes fears and how she handles them. We can all have fears, regardless of the logic in them (it is far more dangerous to drive a car than to fly in an airplane, yet more people are afraid of flying than driving, for example).

      Reply
      • Jennifer Granville
        Jennifer Granville says:

        I agree that we all have fears, even if they are illogical, but faith in God to overcome them or do away with them entirely does not need to involve laying out said fears in a way that indicates to at least one commentor above (Lan) that this man may as well be dead.

        Matthew 6:30
        And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

        Reply
        • Stacey Midge
          Stacey Midge says:

          I think you’re reading too much about the father into this article. It’s not really about him at all; it’s about the author’s worries, and the hope of belonging to God.

          You seem very concerned for the father and how he is denigrated here (although all that is said about him is that he left his wife and is keeping to the custody agreement), but not at all for how you have unnecessarily denigrated the author, calling her parenting and Christian character into question simply because she honestly expressed her fears. Fears that are reasonable given that the man in question did leave his wife for another woman, and might be considered to be somewhat unreliable. One might think you had a vested interest in standing up for him.

          Reply
    • Mariclair
      Mariclair says:

      Jennifer, I’m not sure that you are familiar with this online community, since I see that you are not a member of the Project. Though you are of course free to comment and to disagree, please do so from a place of respect and kindness. Despite your implication above, we are all trying to be Christlike in this place as we support each other through the difficult and joyous times of our lives as young clergy women, and casting aspersions about the author’s faithfulness is not helpful to the point you seem to be trying to make.

      Reply
      • Jennifer Granville
        Jennifer Granville says:

        I’m sorry that my tone is taken as so hurtful. It’s not meant to be. I came across this post on a Google search and thought I would be able to engage as I am writing about divorce in faith communities currently.

        Reply
  4. Maria
    Maria says:

    I, too, am a child of divorced parents. This does not automatically mean that I am hurt by this article. Quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t read it, at all, as an angry ex-wife trying to get back at her former spouse, I read it as written by a woman who is afraid of the future, but hoping for God to be there.
    Being a mother, too, makes me know a little of that worry. Worry is what mothers do. But divorced mothers (and surely fathers too) worry even more. About economy, role models, isolation, friendships, ever finding love again, etc. I really appreciate that worry being so beautifully expressed.
    Also, being a child of a father who actually did not honor the custody agreement, and a mother who struggled much never to say anything negative about him in spite of this, I relate to this, because, however sad and possibly hurtful it is, very many fathers end up not doing their part, for very many reasons. The author has good reason to fear, if judging from numbers alone.
    I expect that she is at loss regarding what to believe regarding the ex, since he turned out to act so very differently than she expected in another area. If it was me, I would worry too, since I would feel that I didn’t even know him anymore.

    Thank you, Colette, for not covering up your fear and your hope. I will keep you, your son, and the father in my prayers.

    Reply
  5. Helen
    Helen says:

    Can I offer a word of encouragement? I am a lay pastor, shortly to go to college and begin my full-time ordination journey. Eight years ago my husband left me in similar circumstances (and incidentally, did not stick to the custody agreement).

    With prayer, support from the congregation, love and time, I have raised my children single-handed, worked and preached. My eldest daughter is now about to start a nursing degree, and my two youngest children are happy, well-adjusted and looking forward to coming to college with me.

    You can do this. God will help. You are not the first minister this has happened to; and you will be a far, far more understanding and compassionate disciple afterwards than you ever could have been before. Blessings to you, your children, your ministry and your ex-husband.

    Reply

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