Editor's Note: This article was excerpted from Kristine Steakley's new book Child of Divorce, Child of God (InterVarsity Press, 2008).  

While I was growing up, I adored my father. Perhaps it was easy to do so since I only saw him for a few weeks each year. But there really was a lot to adore. My father is handsome and charming and witty. He likes to have goofy fun, he has an artistic flair and long ago he acquired an urban sophistication. When I was little, he would take pictures of me from all different angles like I was a model posing for Vogue, then hand over the camera and ham it up while I snapped a few shots of him. He bought me my first tape recorder and encouraged me to record my thoughts and conduct interviews. He was my first interview subject, and I still giggle when I listen to the tape and hear his purposefully silly answers to my very serious questions.

By the time I was a teenager, I knew Dad was not perfect. For one thing, he was a procrastinator and was often late. I remember once running through LAX desperately trying to get to the gate before boarding closed, while Dad waited for my bags to go through security and then ran after me. (I made it, but just barely.) And he was not the most practical guy. One fun day at the beach with him resulted in the two of us lounging in agony in front of fans, our skin the color of just-boiled lobsters because Dad did not bring sunblock and I was too young to think of it myself.

Still, if ever a girl thought her father walked on clouds, it was me. And then he disappeared in the clouds, and I didn’t see him for eight long years. When I did finally see him again, he tried to get me to call him Bill instead of Dad. I remember the first few times I saw him after those eight years, when the walls that had been erected were slowly being dismantled. There were some awkward moments, some tentative conversations. Something in our relationship was broken, shattered, and while we were picking up the pieces and slowly applying glue, there were still a lot of jagged edges and missing parts.  

As we began rebuilding our father-daughter relationship, I found myself always wanting more. Every interaction I had with Dad left me disappointed. It was like getting a small sip of water when what I really wanted was to gulp down a full bottle to slake my thirst. Then I read Dr. Kevin Leman’s book Making Sense of the Men in Your Life, and I realized that I was carrying around an expectation of my dad that he was not meeting. I wanted him to be Father of the Year, to suddenly turn into Pa Ingalls or Ward Cleaver.  

The pastor of a church I once attended was fond of saying, “The difference between reality and expectation is disappointment.” He was right. Leman put it this way: “You know that latent sense that you’ve always been missing something but you were never sure exactly what it was? Well, this is it. This is the father you’ve always wanted, pitted against the father you’ve always had.”1

Reading those words was a breakthrough for me. I realized that my dad had never been the superstar I had made him out to be. He was not the creature from the black lagoon, but neither was he Ward Cleaver. I needed to stop holding my dad responsible for not being the father I wanted him to be and start appreciating and enjoying the father he is.

My dad is probably never going to engage me in deep conversations about my life, give me fatherly advice about men and ask how my car is running. But he is still a charming and witty man who makes me laugh and encourages my talents.  

There is another side to this equation too: I have a stepfather. We do not share the same DNA, but we have history, the memories of our shared family experiences, and I know that he is always more than happy to have those big conversations, to dispense the fatherly advice and to make sure my car is running well. His presence in my life is a comfort and a blessing to me.

Some of the people I talked to as I was writing this book had stepfathers who later disappeared just as their fathers had. Some had mothers who left and never returned.

After Derrick’s parents divorced, his mother remarried, but Derrick did not enjoy a close relationship with either his dad or his stepfather. As he began to approach marriage in his early thirties, Derrick struggled with fear. He felt that he had never had a good model for what a husband should be. But Derrick recognized his fear and decided to do something about it. He began spending time with a Christian man whose family he admired. When Derrick had fears about marriage or questions about how one went about being a good husband or a good father, he had long talks with his mentor. But mostly he spent time observing.

Derrick did purposefully what author Donald Miller did by accident. Miller did not adopt his mentor, John MacMurray. It was the other way around. MacMurray and his wife invited Miller to live in the apartment over their garage. Although he was not looking for an example of godly manhood, Miller got a front-row seat. Reflecting back on the experience, Miller wrote, “For the first time in my life, I saw what a father does, what a father teaches a kid, what a husband does around the house, the way a man interacts with the world around him, the way a man—just as does a woman—holds a family together.”2

Just because we have grown up in homes the world refers to as broken does not mean that we have to remain broken for the rest of our lives. Yes, there have been a lot of broken, shattered things in our lives, and sometimes sharp fragments are still lying around, waiting to prick us in unsuspecting moments. But we do not have to live in a constant and lifelong state of disarray and destruction.

An atomic bomb was dropped on our family, but with time, new green shoots of life can spring up from the charred wreckage.