Father Hunger…sought, lost, reconciled by Art Cosgrove

Imagine for a moment that you’re at an airport waiting for a friend’s plane to arrive. You can’t help overhearing the conversation of two young men standing right behind you. One says to the other, “My Dad is just about the best Dad a guy could ever have. He was always there for me when I needed him. He encouraged me, came to nearly all of my athletic games, and took us on adventuresome family vacations every year. Family holidays were some of the best times of my life. I can’t wait until he gets here and we can spend some more time with one another!”

You can tell by the young man’s voice that he feels genuinely excited about his father’s visit. His comments automatically set into motion memories of your relationship with your own father. How might hearing such comments make you feel?

  • Warm……… “I wish my Dad was coming and I could give him a big hug!”
  • Depressed“I wish I could start the relationship with my Dad all over again.”
  • Angry……… “My Dad wasn’t there for me. He missed all of my events.”
  • Confused…. “No Dad can be that great.”
  • Jealous……. “Why couldn’t I have gotten a Dad like that?”
  • Skeptical…. “Obviously this guy is making all these great things up.”

Most young boys growing up do not have an in-depth understanding of their emotional needs, but various interactions with their father will cause the feelings mentioned above to surface. On the other hand, most young boys growing up into manhood do need to experience basic emotional connections. These emotional connections play an important part in relationship satisfaction. If they are fulfilled, the person might feel contented, excited, or joyful, similar to the person in the story above. But when the emotional connection needs go unmet, the person might feel frustrated, depressed, confused, or even angry.

The following story is about a boy who grew up in Indiana. His father was an All-American college basketball player known for his defensive skills, that went on to become a successful basketball coach and was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Since all boys desire their father’s affection, acceptance, and validation, this young boy determined early in his life that playing basketball at a skilled level would get what he needed from his father.

Enter the first hurdle that would complicate this young boy’s quest to be that skilled basketball player. At age seven, he was diagnosed with having flat feet. The doctors decided that he needed to wear braces in his shoes to elevate his arches. Braces in the late 40’s were made of metal and he had to wear them in his tennis shoes. The problem was that they would cut into his ankles every time he had to make a sharp move to one side or the other. Of course this made him a “step slow” in trying to defend anyone on the court. Nevertheless, he started on his elementary school basketball B-team in the second grade and became proficient at other parts of basketball like dribbling and shooting. Most of his spare time was spent on practicing his basketball skills. By the time he was in the fifth grade he was good enough to play and start on the seventh and eighth grade A-team. He led the team in scoring, and won his first trophy for free throw accuracy.

His Dad didn’t get the chance to be at many of his basketball games because he was busy coaching the high school team. Therefore, it was his mother who saw most of his games and could only report to her husband how well their son had done in the game.

After the young man graduated from elementary school, his Dad took a coaching position at a high school in the central part of the state. The young man played basketball on the high school’s freshman team, but decided that it was too much pressure being the coach’s son and didn’t play basketball in his sophomore and junior years. When the young man was a senior in high school his Dad accepted a coaching position in northern Indiana at a school that had fallen on hard times. He decided to go out again for basketball in his senior year at this new school and made the starting five.

In his first varsity game at this new school, he scored 14 points and flashed his ball handling skills that included behind-the-back dribbling that he had learned and practiced in elementary school. He started in fifteen straight games, and averaged over 12 points, and handled the point guard responsibilities of bringing the ball up the court and starting the offensive sets.

Then came the next hurdle in playing for a Dad. At a holiday basketball tournament, many of the players from his Dad’s former Indiana State Catholic championship team of 1941 were in attendance. (Note: This was before Catholic teams were allowed to play in the Indiana State tournament) Hoping to impress both his Dad and the former team players of that tournament team, he got off to a terrific start—scoring 12 points in the first eight-minute quarter. Early in the second quarter he stole a pass in front of his Dad’s bench. He immediately turned to start dribbling for another break-a-way bucket, but ran over the defender and was called for a charging foul. His Dad jumped off the bench and yelled at him, “Watch before you dribble!”…to which he shouted to his Dad, “Shut up and sit down!” Yes–you guessed it–he was immediately the one who sat down! At half time he had to ask for forgiveness in front of his teammates and his Dad’s ex-players.

After the fifteenth start of the season, his Dad benched him without any reason given as to why he was doing this. And he didn’t start or play in any of the remaining 5 games of the season. Then came the Indiana sectionals and the team was playing its archrival on their home floor. They were leading by three points with only eight seconds to go. The ball was out in front of our bench, but one of the guards had fouled out, and the coach had to replace him. The coach looked up and down the bench, and then overlooking the young man, his son, he put in another player that had not played very much that year. This player promptly turned the ball over twice, and to make a long story short—the team’s archrivals scored four points in eight seconds and won the game!

To say the least, there was anger on the son’s part as well as his mother’s. She almost divorced her husband because he didn’t put their son in the game to handle the ball resulting in the loss of the game. For the son, the anger was that his Dad didn’t trust him at this critical point in the game. To say that this caused a break in the father-son relationship would be an understatement. The father’s caustic remarks about his son being a “step slow,” the decision to take him out of the starting five, and not put him in a sectional game, when ball-handling was important, built up an anger beneath the surface that would last well into adulthood.

I am the young boy in this story. Fast-forward to my adult years. I could never put my finger on why I had a quick anger response in my life. It would reveal itself in various ways. It showed up in athletic endeavors when I felt the referee had made a bad call. It was so bad that I even hit a referee in one basketball game. And in one softball game when I was catching and tried to make a sweep tag from our outfielder to home plate—the player that I was trying to tag out threw a forearm at me and then laughed when I couldn‘t make the tag. That set me off and as I went after him, he ducked and I tumbled over him. An all-out bench clearing brawl lasted 15-20 minutes and ended with the state police having to intervene. 

Picture of Art Cosgrove in his 30s after winning a Stamford, CT YMCA Tournament

My unresolved anger also affected my life after I got married. And to make matters worse, I had been ordained as a pastor. My wife and I went to get professional counseling help for relationship issues. During the year of counseling, the Christian counselor listened to my part of the story and suggested that I needed to go and reconcile unresolved anger issues with my father. 

I called my sister in Indiana and told her I was coming home to visit, but that I needed to spend time with my Dad. She didn’t quite understand what the need was, because she always thought I was the “golden one!” In our growing up years she had been spared the ongoing struggle with my Dad, but she graciously allowed me to spend extended time with my Dad.

After arriving home, I decided to take Dad on a “road trip” to visit all the places of my childhood. After the car was all packed, we drove to every place where we had lived and found all of our former homes, the schools I had attended, and enjoyed the towns we had lived in as well as the schools where Dad had coached. It was good to tell old stories and see how many of my vivid memories were correct. 

Art Cosgrove (Jr) and his dad after his reconciliation trip

I remembered that the distances between places in my story were quite far, but during my revisit I found out they were much shorter. I also discovered something about the school gymnasium several of us broke into to practice shooting baskets one evening.  When we heard the priest come in to find out why the lights were on we ran and hid in the restroom toilet. I thought that the toilet must have had room to see us under the stall—when in actuality it was solid concrete block. Never sure how the priest figured out we were in the stall!

When we reached the town in which I was born, I measured the distance from our home to the high school where Dad coached. When I was about four I walked over to the school where he was teaching and climbed up on the window ledge and starting waving at him. His students saw me and let me in the window. I thought the distance I walked was a very long way from our home, but it turned out to be only about a hundred yards! This particular visit gave my Dad a chance to talk with one of his buddies who use to drive his State Championship team to games in his paneled bread truck.

Our last visit was to a town where Dad coached college basketball for four years before he decided to return to high school basketball. During this visit we recalled several stories. The first was when my Dad had stopped his car and got out to talk to a friend, but left me, as well as my sister in the car with the motor running. After he got out of the car, I got into the drivers seat, put the car in gear and stepped on the gas. Thankfully, Dad was able to run us down before we crashed. And another story involved my younger sister who I was chasing one day. She ran into a corner of the house and got a severe cut above her eye, and she had to be rushed to the hospital to get 15 stiches above her eye. Maybe these are reasons why my Dad didn’t think he could trust me! 

It was also in this same town, when we used to visit friends for Thanksgiving, that I would play my Dad ping-pong. At first, he would give me points and beat me. Eventually I got better, and I finally was able to beat him. When I beat him for the first time, he didn’t even give me credit, but walked out angrily. Did I say that my Dad was competitive? In a few more years, I started to give him points and still beat him. I don’t think this set too well with him!

Finally we arrived back where we had started—to the northern Indiana town where Dad had coached, and where I played for him for fifteen games before he sat me on the bench. It was at this point that I needed to confess why we had taken this road trip. So slowly I got up the courage to say to my Dad. “Dad, ever since I was a senior in high school and played B-ball for you, and you sat me on the bench after fifteen games and never played me again, I have had resentment and anger toward you. You knew that I was the best ball handler that you had, and you still did not put me in that last sectional game against our archrival.” And then I paused and said, “Why did you not put me in? Why didn’t you trust me?” 

With tears in his eyes, my Dad responded, “You’re right I should have put you in the game.” Then he told me the rest of the story. The year before we moved to this Northern Indiana town the son of one of the teachers at the High School had been a starter on the school’s basketball team. The teacher’s son made the team when my father took over as coach but didn’t get to play much. Since he was a senior that year his father, the teacher, had been pressuring my Dad to get his son some more playing time. My Dad told me that he caved into the pressure, and decided in this important part of the game to give this teacher’s son a chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for anyone. It didn’t work out for my Dad because we lost. It didn’t work out for this teacher’s son, because he turned the ball over twice. And it didn’t work out for me because I had harbored all of this resentment and anger for so many years.

At this point, I asked my Dad to forgive me for all the anger I had held against him. At this point, as an adult, I could understand peer pressure quite a bit more than when I was a high school student. And as I gave him a hug, he asked me to forgive him for not having enough guts to stand up and do what he knew was right at the moment. This is what is called total reconciliation—something that doesn’t always happen. From that day forward my Dad and I were able to get back on track with a loving relationship, so much so, that later in his life before he died, I was able to lead him to the Lord. 

Now I wish I could say that everything from that point on was even-keeled and peaceful. But as my Dad got closer to passing, he got a little cantankerous and we had a few discussions that were not pleasant as my sister and I tried to take care of him in his last years. There were times that I wasn’t nice to him and I was even angry that I had to deal with role reversal and act as a father to him. But after I did his funeral service, there was an extreme sense of loss of not being able to talk to him anymore. But I know deep in my heart that his decreased mental capacity would have prevented us from having meaningful discussions, so I will have to wait until our heavenly reunion to have those talks!

Taking Steps

Taking steps to forgive another person who you perceive has wronged you is painful and difficult. Knowing that God will “go before and prepare the way,” helps us as Christians to follow through in this area of our lives. These are the steps that my Christian counselor helped me to find peace in my life and which I now follow as a pastoral counselor to help others find the same peace.

  • Identify the people who have offended you and identify the specific wrong (ie. rejection, injustice, unfairness, physical or emotional abuse, betrayal, abandonment, neglect, deprivation of love, etc.)
  • Face the hurt, pain, anger, bitterness associated with the person and the specific wrongs. If you bury them, you also bury your chances of forgiveness.
  • Face the cross. It is the cross of Christ that makes forgiveness legal and morally right. Jesus “died once for all” when he took upon Himself all the sins of the world.
  • Decide that you will ”bear the burden of their sin.” As Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers transgressions seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.”
  • Decide if you will forgive nor not. It is your choice. Forgiveness is an act of the will, a choice to let the other person off the hook and free yourself from the past. Your feelings will follow in time, but you need to release the desire to hate, to be angry, and to seek revenge.
  • Find a trusted Christian counselor/pastor/friend who will pray with and for you.  James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed.”
  • Do not expect your choice to forgive to result in major changes in someone else. Instead pray for them as Matthew 5:44 says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as you pray for them you will find a freedom in that forgiveness through Christ as Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
  • Try to understand those you have forgiven. They are victims also. Their past situations have also included instances of rejection that they have not been able to deal with in a healing way.
  • Remember that forgiveness is a choice of the will in obedience to God. Some positive emotional results will come with time and include the following: a) the ability to think about the person without feeling hurt, anger and resentment; b) The ability to revisit people and places without resentment, or other negative responses.
  • Thank God for the lessons learned and the maturity gained as a result of the experience. As Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son”
  • Accept your part of the blame for what happened and confess it to God and others. For 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

My closing thoughts about my story are as follows:

*I wish that my Dad had understood my need for affection, acceptance, and validation

   His statements (which were true because of my braces) about being  “one step slow,” hurt me, and made me feel that I could never live up to my Dad’s expectation, no   matter how hard I tried. This feeling probably contributed to me sitting out my sophomore and junior years.

*I wish that my Dad had talked to me as to why he sat me on the bench after 15 games.

I’m not sure it would have helped matters, but not knowing what Dad thought of me caused a lot of doubt in my own ability at the time, and whether  I would ever be good enough to get his validation.

*I wish that my Dad had enough faith in me to put me in that last sectional game.

I’m not sure that the game outcome would have been different, but it would have shown me personal acceptance at the time.

*I am glad that I got good Christian counseling for my underlying anger issues.

This helped to turn my entire life around and set me on the correct path of forgiveness.

*I am so thankful that I was able to go through this experience and come out the other side, by God’s grace, so that I am able to help others with the same issues.

Spiritual growth is not easy, and often painful. But the end result is a “closer walk with the Lord”, as well as a deeper understanding of what others are facing so that you can counsel them with compassion and mercy.

These are the final words of the St. Francis of Assisi Peace Prayer. They are fitting in that I chose Francis as my confirmation name. The Lord foreknew, before I was born, that one day these words would become an important part of my reconciled life!

        “For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life”

St. Francis of Assissi

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