I remember growing up in high school without my dad. He had been to jail for prostitution on church property and was sent away to rehab for emotional, physical, and spiritual recovery. Even after he returned a year later, our relationship was not the same. He had been relapsing into his old self, abusing my mom, and attempting to buy my affection with material possessions. My dad was not a good parent for my life and I felt like I was fatherless.
As I reminisce on the past, I can’t help but see myself in a similar place as Prince Zuko, heir to the Fire Nation. The young boy was raised by harsh rules and a brutal father in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Growing up in the royal family, Zuko was destined to become the next Fire Lord and his father did whatever means necessary to craft him into that image. Zuko was distant from his dad, only connected by a thin string that was family lineage and the little love he received during childhood. When the young Fire Nation prince was a teenager, he had been scarred from his father by refusing to duel him for speaking out of term, receiving a permanent mark over his left eye. Then, Zuko was excommunicated from his home and given an impossible task: capture the Avatar. He was treated as slum by Fire Lord Ozai rather than his son and was considered an outcast until he completed his mission. After Zuko left the Fire Nation to start his search for the master of elements, he had only the shadow of his father’s harsh expectations left with him, not his actual father. “Restore my honor” was his mantra and returning to his father was his aim.
I can only imagine how many readers can relate with Prince Zuko too, feeling fatherless. Whether your dad has passed away, left your family, or turned into a monster, the absence of a father can leave a permanent scar on your heart, similar to the young man’s dull red burn. I can remember the days when my mom would try her best to take both parenting roles by herself, but it was never the same. Something is so fundamentally human about having a father and when that part of heart is missing, we feel incomplete.
When Prince Zuko was lost in his darkest place, his uncle, Iroh, came into his life as a mentor, teaching him how to act and how to live. Most times, the young prince would learn these lessons in the most obscure places, taking in the seemingly absurd nuggets of wisdom from his uncle. However, in other cases, Iroh would act as a diplomat on behalf of Zuko when making arrangements for the Fire Nation, something his exiled nephew had no freedom to do. He would also direct Zuko’s path as they traveled across the ocean in search of the Avatar, offering suggestions and steering them on right course.
However, more than anything, Iroh was the father Zuko never had. When the young prince was consumed by the darkness, Iroh showed him the way to the light. While the reckless teenager was chasing a hopeless quest to capture the Avatar, Iroh stayed by his side. As the exiled man felt like he needed to restore his honor, Iroh assured him that he already had in his eyes. Unlike the boy’s heavy expectations to become the image of his father, Iroh questioned his nephew and asked, “Is that your own destiny? Or is that a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?” After Zuko returned to his birth father to find love from a man who never loved him in the first place, Iroh remained patient with him. When Iroh had been rejected by his own nephew and thrown into prison with a punishment meant for a traitor, Iroh still chased after him. Zuko, tears streaming down his face, confesses his horrible acts against his uncle after all that he did for him, yet Iroh embraced the young prince in a tight embrace, forgiving him of everything.
The beautiful picture that Iroh shows Zuko as a father figure, loving his nephew like his own son, astounds me. Every time I watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, I can’t help but get teary eyed when I see the way Zuko is transformed by the love of Iroh. Personally, I have experienced this same kind of relationship with someone special in my life who did the same thing for me that Iroh did for Zuko. He found me in my darkest pit, trying to dull my pain with addiction, and pulled me out. He wrapped His arms around me and loved me more than anyone else. He gave me a new name, identity, and family. This He, if you haven’t already guessed, is Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe.
So when you are walking through life without your dad, remember that your Heavenly Father is watching you from above and loves you. He wants an intimate relationship with you and, if you choose to believe in Jesus Christ, He will adopt you as His own child.
“Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:1-7, NJKV)