Able to call him ‘Abba Father’ with a grateful heart

My recent trip to Ethiopia allowed me to spend quality time with my mother. Along with other life issues, we talked a lot about my late father, who passed away when I was a child. Although we had conversations about my dad many times in the past, this time was different. There was new information about my dad, which I was not aware of. What she told me about him surprised me and made me appreciate him even more. She started by explaining why my dad decided to marry and have a family late in life.


He spent the early part of his years in the war, fighting not only with the Italians who came to colonise Ethiopia but with North Korea by being a part of the United Nations army deployed to South Korea. Later on, he served as a mayor of a city in the western part of Ethiopia. I appreciated his contributions and dedications of service to his country very much. As I reflect on what my mother told me about him, I remember how losing him early in life affected my childhood and beyond and decided to share it with you.

My dad’s death, at an early age, left a vacuum in my life. For about a year, they told me that he was away for a long trip. Later, when they thought I could comprehend his death, they told me that he died and would never return. The vacuum created as a result of his death was hard to fill. Here is how I describe the particular void which I was experiencing. I presume that every child wants to call their parents, mommy and daddy, in the Ethiopian language, Emama and Ababa.


The desire intensifies when a child is deprived of that opportunity at a young age. I didn’t get the chance to call my father Ababa consciously. I craved it badly. As a kid, I remember wanting my friend’s dads to let me call them Ababa. At times I used to go into my bedroom, kneeling by my bedside and crying out repeatedly calling Ababa, Ababa, seeking to get some kind of satisfaction. I remember asking God why he took my dad away from me.

To my surprise, the craving continued to my teenage years. I sometimes catch myself getting closer to my friend’s dads with the same desire, seeking to call them Ababa. I know, it’s ridiculous, right? Yes, but that is what a vacuum in your soul makes you strive to want to be filled, somehow.


My fierce argument with my friends was when I hear them disrespect their dads or take them as granted. They never understood why I get upset about it. I used to say to them ‘you have no idea the privilege of having a dad who you call Ababa.’ They never understood me. My mother eventually married my stepdad, who was a very good man. I wanted to call him Ababa but couldn’t. It felt superficial, knowing that I wasn’t born of him. So, the vacuum created by the loss of my dad remained, up until one Tuesday evening.

It was a week before the six-month anniversary of my conversion to be a follower of Christ. That evening, I was at a prayer meeting. At the end of the session, the person leading the meeting asked me to come prepared to share my testimony, of how I came to know the Lord, in the coming week. I accepted his invitation and left.


It was late when I got home, and my family were asleep. I quietly went into my bedroom and briefly prayed before getting to bed. My mind was already occupied thinking about what I would be saying in the next week’s prayer meeting. I was timid back then. The thought persisted for a while, and suddenly my mind went back to my childhood. The pain I felt in my room made me cry out, calling ‘Ababa! Ababa’, until my throat was raw.


Suddenly, I remembered that a few minutes ago, kneeling by my bedside and praying, I referred to God as father and even called him Ababa! I sat up on my bed from a sleeping position, and started asking myself ‘how is that possible?’ Who am I to call God Ababa! The reasons why I couldn’t call God Ababa were convincingly strong.


You see, I was from a religious family background where God is regarded inaccessible. It is through our priests we can make our petitions heard. God is feared and respected. Keeping our distances from him was considered as a sign of respect and reverence. We also have great reverence for the bible, but it is a closed book for laypeople. Having a bible in your home by itself was considered to be powerful enough to get rid of evil spirits. From this background and no knowledge of the bible, calling God Abba, Father felt blasphemous.

However, the fact that I was comfortably called God Ababa a few minutes ago persisted. Then two convincing reasons came to my mind. The first argument was that through Christ, I was born of God, and he was not like my stepfather. God is different, and I am born of Him through His Spirit. So, I am genuinely his child. The second argument was a portion of scripture that I heard preached that came to my mind and made it clear to me why I could confidently call God Ababa.


‘You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’


That did it. If you could see me that night, you would have thought I had lost my mind.

I was able for the first time to consciously and genuinely say Ababa! Someone who was present with me in that very room and who is assuredly my father. I cried, rejoiced, praised and called him Ababa thousands of times, until no strength left in me to continue.


Since that day, the vacuum disappeared. I was healed and restored. I felt whole. I am grateful to God, who become my father through Christ. Of course, my dad has a special place in my heart, and I treasure the little memories I have of him, but God’s presence replaced the vacuum created by his absence. May we never take what is given to us as granted but treasure it with a grateful heart.


Thank you
Girma Bishaw, Director & Founder Gratitude Initiative