Missionary talks the challenges and rewards of fatherhood
Everybody's experience with fatherhood is a little different. For Dean Goossen, fatherhood represents a personal journey of the soul that can be beautiful, painful and always illuminating.
Fatherhood is a nebulous idea.
That’s because what fatherhood means is a little different to every person and every person’s idea of fatherhood grows from many roots. Fathers. Stepfathers. Grandfathers. Godfathers. Founding fathers. Holy fathers. Absentee fathers. Paterfamilias. Stand-in and substitutes. Father figures.
For many, fatherhood is the foundation upon which an identity is built, while for others, fatherhood is a hole they’ll spend their lives trying to fill.
It’s not surprising that for Dean Goossen — a resident of Brainerd and traveling Christian minister — his conception of fatherhood takes on deeply spiritual dimensions.
But, a boilerplate explanation of God the Father is not where it ends. Goossen’s conception of fatherhood also finds roots in a difficult relationship with his earthly father. It’s reflected in his relationship with his wife, Cassie. And it finds clarity, he said, with every day he spends with his children — four boys and a girl, with one more on the way — and the moments he sees a little of himself in them.
Goossen originally hails from Vail, Colorado, where he grew up before transplanting to Minnesota in 2002 so he could play drums in a Christian rock band called Silverline. He met Cassie in 2009 and it was about 2012 that he left the band and founded Awakening Hope Ministries. The intervening years have been marked by steady progress toward where he wants to be: on the road, preaching. He left contractor work in flooring and carpeting last year and he’s become involved in the ministry full time, spreading the Gospel to locations across the United States, or abroad in areas as diverse as Brazil and Tanzania.
“I was finally able to disconnect having to earn my dad's approval and that's not what God wants. He's not wanting us to earn his approval. That was a huge moment, because it influenced me as a dad to say, ‘I don't ever want my kids to think or feel they need to earn my love or approval in any way.’”
— Dean Goossen, minister and Brainerd resident
For a minister who is the son of a minister, the assumption might be that Goossen’s own father was a positive presence and one he longed to emulate, but Goossen was unflinchingly critical of the man who loomed over his childhood. His experiences initially colored his conception of fatherhood and God for the worst, Goossen said, but later it also offered insights that make him a better man and better father for his own children.
“I've always said that it takes a man to make a man,” Goossen said during an interview at his Brainerd home. “If you don't have a good relationship with your dad, as a young boy you start looking for another male authority figure to give you that approval when you’ve crossed the line from boyhood.”
“My relationship with my dad was not good,” Goossen added. “He's a good guy, but he's very authoritative and a chauvinist. If (your father-son relationship) doesn't happen in a healthy way, you'll find somebody that's not a good example or good authority and you just follow down that road. Unfortunately, I wish being a believer or Christian meant that you were a good example or a good dad, but our relationship has never been good. I'm just not sure it ever will be.”
It was an environment of sexism, heavy-handed discipline and a rigid, authoritarian brand of fatherhood left a deep impression. Goossen emphasized his approach to fatherhood has been one of acceptance, mindfulness, and granting his children — Wesley, 8, Lincoln, 7, Curtis, 5, Graham, 4, Lucy, 2, and a sixth child due in August — the time and consideration they need, even if the rigors of ministry make it difficult.
There were personal failures at times. Goossen said he’s had plenty of moments where he “sucked at loving (his) kids.” On the other hand, perhaps one of the hardest lessons for Goossen, he said, was to move past the fear that his own children would reject him the same way he rejected his father in years past.
But, life has a way of coming full circle — even with great revelations — in the rawest forms of human connection and in moments of childlike simplicity.
“Sometimes as a parent, you want your kids' behavior to be perfect because that reflects upon you, not because it's what you want from them. That was something that needed to die,"
— Dean Goossen, minister and Brainerd resident
“I was actually living in fear of (being rejected by my own children). What if my kids hate me like I hated my dad? What if they want nothing to do with me?” Goossen said. “I remember when Wesley was born, they put him quickly in a little bed and they were taking care of him. He was crying. He's just fresh. I walked over to him and I gave him my finger and he grabbed my finger and he stopped crying. And then I started crying. It's been a very healing thing for me because my children bonded with me in ways that I never bonded with my dad. That's a gift.”
“I would love to say that I'm much different than he is, but it doesn't stop me from understanding that my own kids’ connection with me is a gift, because they don't owe that to me. I don't deserve it,” Goossen said. “No matter how much I am different from my dad, I still don't deserve it. And the fact that they've given me that gift of loving me, I’ve received that with great humility.”
There’s also Goossen’s relationship with his wife, Cassie, who — in Goossen’s own estimation — is the better parent and caretaker in a way he can only look to emulate in his own life. While Cassie draws on natural intuition, Goossen said he’s had to watch, observe, and do his best to practice these same lessons in his role as a father. Often, with mixed results.
“She is a natural, perfect mother. I've learned so much from her on raising kids — communicating with the kids, loving them well — because she seems just so natural and so there's lots of times I just watch her and go, ‘I need to be more like that. I need to go more like this, because she's just good at it,” Goossen said. “I appreciate that because she's a professional mom, so I look at her and go ‘OK, how do I do that now as a dad?’”
One example of Cassie’s steadying presence immediately came to mind:
“Sometimes as a parent, you want your kids' behavior to be perfect because that reflects upon you, not because it's what you want from them,” Goossen said. “That was something that needed to die. I'm thankful that she helped me recognize them, to recognize that.”
And then there’s more heavenly notions of fatherhood that are derived from God Himself, Goossen said. It’s a matter of balancing the universal with the particular, he said, or about balancing the needs of each child with those of his ministry spreading God’s word. The breakthrough came, Goossen said, when he was able to separate his father, the authoritarian, from God, the loving and patient master of the universe.
“I was finally able to disconnect having to earn my dad's approval and that's not what God wants. He's not wanting us to earn his approval,” Goossen said. “That was a huge moment, because it influenced me as a dad to say, ‘I don't ever want my kids to think or feel they need to earn my love or approval in any way.’
“As much as I want to guide them toward living life in a righteous way, they're going to make mistakes because they're human and I don't want them to ever question my love for them,” Goossen said. “Understanding the love of God has shaped the way I should be as a father and I'm working hard every day to attain a closer version of that.”
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .