Father Wound #2: The Time-Bomb Dad

This is the third in a five-part series on “father wounds” and the way that Jesus came to heal those wounds. Be sure to go back and read the introduction, “Your Father Isn’t God the Father,” as well as “Wound #1: The Never-Satisfied Dad.”

The Time-bomb Dad is the kind of dad that was impulsive, unreliable, and often dangerous. With Time-bomb Dad, you just never knew quite what to expect. If he had had a bad day at work, the smallest thing would set him off. Add alcohol or drugs, and it would magnify these outbursts. With Time-bomb Dad, people got hurt—be that through verbal abuse or physical abuse. Maybe it was your mother that got hurt. Maybe it was your siblings. Maybe it was you.

Of course, you can never really learn to love this kind of dad, because it’s hard to love someone you are terrified of. Stephen Poulter says in The Father Factor that the negative ramifications from this kind of dad are manifold. He writes, “Nearly all anxiety disorders have their beginnings in this style of fathering” (The Father Factor, 105).

For example, kids who grow up in environments like this can become control freaks. It’s not hard to see why. Growing up, when dad would explode, these kids’ lives crashed. So they learned to control everything to keep those outbursts to a minimum. That’s a protective coping mechanism that gets kids through trauma, but the long-term effects are damaging. As adults, children of Time-bomb Dads retain this sense of “hyper-vigilance.” What helped them survive a dangerous home, though, leads to a life marked by symptoms similar to PTSD.

Poulter compares it to the U.S.’ response after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We missed a critical attack at Pearl Harbor because we weren’t vigilant enough. So we then installed a radar system that was so sophisticated it could detect any movement on the Pacific Ocean within a 5000-mile radius of Pearl Harbor. When it comes to national defense, that’s a smart move. But if you apply that hyper-vigilance to life and relationships, it’s toxic.

The most damaging effect of an upbringing like this is how it affects your view of the Heavenly Father. If your father was dangerous, you probably have a hard time trusting anyone in positions of power, God included. How can you trust that this Father will really take care of you? What if he happens to be in a bad mood? (You’ve experienced that one too many times to be taken off guard.) And, just as with your earthly dad, you are always trying to figure out what to do to contain him, to stay on his good side. When something goes wrong, you wonder, “What did I do now?”

Your Heavenly Father could not be more different than the Time-bomb Dad. David said, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8 ESV). Time-bomb Dads abound in anger, and they’re slow to show affection. So those of you who grew up in those homes may find it hard to believe that the opposite really exists. I’m telling you: It does.

I love the Hebrew phrase that’s translated “slow to anger.” In Hebrew that literally reads, “long of nostrils.” This is a great Hebrew metaphor. Think about it: What happens when you get angry? Your nostrils flare. If you’re quick-tempered, your flaring nostrils get going right away. Soon you’re like a bull, raring to charge. That’s Time-bomb Dad again.

But what do you do if you’re trying to control your anger? Well, you close your mouth and breathe deeply and slowly through your nose. That’s God. As much as we might assume otherwise, the Bible assures us that his anger doesn’t get going quickly. He is ready to forgive us the moment we repent. Think of the Father in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, who stands at the door of his home yearning for his son to come home. The very moment he sees his son, he breaks into a sprint to welcome him back.

Are there times that God disciplines us? Absolutely. And he often allows very painful times in our lives, just as a good father would do. But this is the big difference: He does not discipline his children out of anger. And he never puts us through pain because he’s lost control. In God, we have a Father whose discipline is an overflow of his love, not a random, haphazard, and frightening moment of abuse.

God disciplines his children, and the Bible assures us that it’s always for our good. The writer of Hebrews, for instance, says that even with the best dads, their discipline can sometimes be mixed with selfish anger. But the discipline of the Heavenly Father is always pure and perfect love with no anger at all (Hebrews 12:7-11). That’s because he poured out all the wrath and judgment for our sin on Jesus so that not a drop remains for us (Romans 8:1). And God promises us in Romans 8:28 that he now controls all things in our lives for good.

If you are God’s child, not one thing has ever happened to you or will ever happen to you that God does not intend for good.

How would that change how you looked at your life? Everything in your past, everything in your present, everything in your future—all of it is a part of God’s grand plan to do good toward you. If you are in Christ, that’s not just wishful thinking; that’s a promise more certain than life or death.

Our earthly dads were supposed to be like training wheels to teach us about the Heavenly Father. Some of us, admittedly, have had some really bad training wheels. But no matter how bad (or good!) our fathers were, we can all know the real Father, who gives us the ability to cope with all the ways our earthly fathers failed us. So let’s stop viewing our heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly one and instead evaluate our earthly father through the lens of our heavenly one.