When I was nine, my parents got divorced. My sister and I would stay with my mum on weekdays and weekends were spent at my dad’s apartment.
He would pick us up at the bus stop, we’d go to Boon Lay market and savour the famous chicken rice there, then head over to the condominium where he stayed. Movies, computer games, swimming pool. It was heaven on earth for a kid at that age.
On one of those days together, my father unknowingly imparted the deepest message of grace to a 12-year-old me. I only realised how powerful it was many years later at the age of 23.
It happened on a Saturday when the two of us were out getting lunch at a market nearby. My sister had stayed at home to play games on the Xbox. After parking the car, my father headed in an unfamiliar direction, taking me towards an old shopping centre instead.
“Pa, where are we going? Chicken rice is the other way,” I asked, concerned.
“You wait and see,” my dad replied. In my memory, he was sniggering. Or at least he must have been in his heart.
Inside the building, we took an escalator up and shortly arrived at a Game Boy store. My eyes widened and I had to stifle a shout of excitement. As with typical Asian families, gifts were earned through good exam results. I hadn’t received any exam papers back recently.
“Choose one,” Dad said.
I am still shocked that I could reply the way I did at that age: “But Pa, I haven’t even shown you any exam results yet. No need to buy, I never earned it.”
“I’m buying you a Game Boy because I’m your father and I love you,” he responded. “Choose a colour.”
In that moment, Dad mattered more to me than owning a Game Boy.
Question marks must have popped up over my head – I was in genuine confusion. “No, Pa, it’s okay. Results are in a month’s time.”
“Cheng, just choose a colour. I really want you to have one. You don’t need to earn it.”
At that moment, Dad mattered more to me than owning a Game Boy.
That day, I learnt what grace is. You cannot earn grace. It is given.
10 years later, that intimate relationship had become a shadow. Life had gotten in the way, friends were cooler to hang out with and I gradually began getting too busy to spend time with Dad.
He was sad about it but he never forced me to spend time with him. Our sleepovers on weekends shrunk to biweekly dinners. I grew distant and he decided to bury himself in work.
Around the same time, in 2017, I came to know Christ. I was still in university then. It was a big moment in my life and something stirred in me to share this with my dad. It had been quite some time of “relationship silence”, but I texted Dad, who was a taxi-driver, asking him to have dinner together near my school.
I didn’t know the simplest and most profound things about my father – I just had a vague idea of who he was.
I distinctly remember sitting in his car as we headed out of NTU when I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to intentionally get to know him. It was true – I loved him and yet I didn’t know him! I didn’t know the simplest and most profound things about my father – I just had a vague idea of who he was.
I think to myself now, isn’t that how most of us are with God?
So I tried to ask him personal questions: “Pa, why do you keep saltwater fish tanks? What about them do you like?” “Pa, what do you like about your job?”
“Pa, why do you love me so much?” Just kidding, I didn’t ask this one. I wish I had.
From that day on, God’s slight nudging for me to get me to know my dad as a friend was clear. So, I began asking him out every two to three days for dinner. Food gave us a reason to hang. It was awkward without an agenda like that.
God then impressed upon me to start eating extremely slowly to lengthen that time with him. For those who know me, you know how I practically inhale my food, so this was a little tough, to begin with. But I did it anyway.
Within a few months, wow, Dad was my friend. I liked him as a person. If he had been someone my age or not my dad, I would still have totally hung out with him. We genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
As the days went by, I learnt that it’s not enough to love someone – you need to know them too.
My father eventually came to know the Lord after two long years of labouring with my pastor, whom I feel did most of the groundwork. Dad was like me, scientific, facts-driven, someone who enjoyed debates and on the whole, stubborn. Sincere, but stubborn. More accurately, I am like him.
On the day we got baptised together, I hugged him tightly in the pool. You can see how widely he was smiling from the photos.
Dad has since gone to be with Christ, and that’s another story all by itself. But when I look back at my life with him, it’s obvious that our Heavenly Father’s hand was behind so many little things.
The ways of God are generally clearer in hindsight. When life slowly gets clearer and you look back, the epiphany is the same: “Wow, He was always there.” It was God’s hand that orchestrated such beautiful moments between me and my father. It was a beautiful, triune relationship, sort of.
There’s this saying: “Through your earthly father, you will see your Heavenly Father.” And through my dad, I learnt 3 things about God:
- You do not have to earn His grace – and you can’t! He gives grace because He loves you.
- You must get to know God better, the way you get to know a person. He’s the most wonderful friend you will ever have.
- God is always there and He is good.
Of course, as earthly dads are always tainted with sin, it affects how we view God too. In my experience, my friends who struggle with accepting that “God is good” often have troubled relationships with their fathers too.
Regardless, the message is the same: God is good and He is your perfect Father.
I told my girlfriend Elaine recently that I really miss my dad, as his son and as his friend. I wish I’d gone fishing with him more, asked him about his first love, gone to his home every weekend instead of spending so much time with friends…
But I also see what God gave us in his last days on earth. Such grace. Such love. Such kindness. A restored father-son relationship so beautiful it aches and burns in my heart. What a picture of the Heavenly Father-and-child relationship He is always restoring to wholeness for you and me.
How often have you stopped to really look at your father? What does he care about? What about him makes you smile? This Father’s Day, show us who Dad is through your eyes – we wanna celebrate him with a gift that will touch his heart.
- How is your relationship with your father? Ask for God’s restoration and abundance to fill it in the days to come.
- Are there unresolved issues between you and your dad? Come before the Lord and ask Him for His thoughts on the matter, and how you can actively do your part in the healing journey. Commit to obeying Him as He leads.
- Do you struggle to relate to God as a good and loving Father? What are some past hurts or disappointments that may have caused the rift? Have an honest conversation with Him about this – you can tell Him anything!
- What are some ways to deepen your intimacy with your earthly father and your Heavenly Father? Write them down and commit them to God in prayer. Then do something about it!