My copy of To Own a Dragon arrived yesterday and I read it last night. It's a pretty quick read; I finished it in about 4 hours. While much of the book is sobering, Don Miller's humor lightens it up and made me laugh out loud at times or stop to read a particularly hilarious passage to my brother (who was over for dinner) or my mom (who is staying with me temporarily). We all laughed together at his description of a pitiful pine car derby entry, painted to resemble Bo and Luke Duke's sweet ride, but with no wheels, screeching to a halt at the first flat spot in the race track. "That General Lee, always breaking down," Miller as a boy thought, while his mother realized in horror that none of the other Boy Scouts' fathers had helped him as promised.
The title comes from Miller's comparison of fathers to fairy tale dragons. "...I feel as though I am writing a book about a dragon or a troll under a bridge. For me a father is nothing more than a character in a fairy tale. And I know that fathers are not like dragons in that fathers actually exist, but I don't remember feeling that a father existed for me...in a way I don't miss having a father any more than I miss having a dragon."
Miller discovered, however, that not having a father was something he missed in profound ways that he had never acknowledged. And he learned "that wounds don't heal until you feel them." Through a pivotal friendship with photographer John MacMurray (credited as a co-author because of the depth of his inspiration for Miller's thoughts on fatherhood), Miller begins to explore what fatherhood really means and what it means for God to be a father to us. MacMurray tells Miller, "...ultimately, we all belong to God. In Scripture He refers to Himself as our Father and I think He really longs for us to know Him as that. So I would say, none of us is really without a father."
Still, Miller acknowledges that the image of God as father was a difficult one for him. "...if our earthly fathers are God's way of communicating His love for us, then, apparently, God only loves some of us." But he goes on to realize that "our fathers aren't God. They can help us understand who God is and how good He is, but they can also do a lot of damage. But God is God regardless, and if we take the Bible as true, it's good to think He is fathering us perfectly."
In the end, Miller concludes that all of us face challenges. For some of us, our big challenge is life without a father. We can wallow in self-pity and fruitless rage over that, or we can realize that it's a challenge and deal with it. "Christian spirituality," writes Miller, "does not tell me to close my eyes and pretend life is beautiful and there are no problems to confront. I am told, instead, I am out of water, and finding water again will require a different kind of water...We will have issues, we will have brokenness."
And he leaves us with a challenge: to become Wounded Healers, a phrase taken from Bishop Desmond Tutu. Miller's exhortation is to see your pain as a road to empathy and healing for others. "It makes you wonder, doesn't it, whether or not God calls specific people who have specific pain into the authority of empathy? Experience is, after all, the best education."
Miller lives by this exhortation, having established a foundation to help single moms and provide mentors for fatherless kids. Here are some sobering statistics from his foundation:
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes--5 times the average.
85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes--20 times the average.
80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes--14 times the average.
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes--9 times the average.
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes--10 times the average.
70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes--9 times the average.
85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes--20 times the average.
Dads, you make a huge difference in your kids' lives just by being there!