One day a young man came to the court of King Arthur and begged to be made a knight. Although a fine looking man, he wore a tattered coat. He introduces himself as Brewnor of the Noyre, but Sir Kay mocks him and says, “The name he really deserves is La Cote Male Tayle, that is the evil-shapen coat.”
Brewnor says he wears the coat of his father who while asleep in the woods was hacked to death by an enemy. He has pledged to wear his father’s coat until he avenges his murder. Although the venomous tongue of Kay assigned the name La Cote Male Tayle, Brewnor adopts the name when knighted by Arthur.
In Malory’s account, Brewnor becomes a famed knight and eventually avenges his father’s death but owns the name for the rest of his life. Malory never tells us whether he stops wearing the ill-fitting coat of his father. The story doesn’t indicate whether Brewnor was wise or foolish to take his identity from his father’s coat and tragic death.
The story makes the simple point that men, in one way or another, often wear the coat given by their father. Most of us know men who have worn a coat woven from their fathers’ rejection—men who live their lives seeking to prove themselves to their fathers. Some wear the anger their father’s wore.
But the case of Brewnor presents a different kind of inheritance. Brewnor’s love for his father locked him into an identity rooted in vengeance. Although few men need to avenge their father’s murder, many men are haunted by the unfairness or hardship their fathers faced. Simply knowing that your father never achieved his dream or finished his quest can gnaw at your gut. It is easy to slip on a coat of bitterness or vow to never tolerate the kind of injustice your father endured. Many men, for instance, have been driven by a vow to escape the poverty of their parents.
I have sometimes worn my father’s coat. Growing up, I watched my father faithfully pastor one small church after another without seeing much growth. At some churches, he endured heart-breaking criticism. Some attacks left his self-worth in tatters. That such faithfulness and goodness should be rewarded with such misery still seems unjust.
I have worked hard at not wearing an ill-fitting coat (La Cote Male Tayle) woven from my father’s disappointments and unrealized quest. Although most of my own experiences with the Church have been positive, I can easily wear resentment at the treatment my father received. Honestly, my deepest issues have been with God himself. If God dealt disappointment and discouragement to my father (whose goodness and faithfulness exceeded my own), why should I expect more from God? It is hard not to wear his coat when I kneel to pray. How do I avenge my father when I think (yes, wrongly) his enemy was God?
The trouble with our fathers’ coats is that like the armor Saul offered David, they don’t fit us. Vows to achieve what our fathers didn’t or be what they weren’t can keep us from our own quest and our own identity. I cannot wear a coat woven from the pain and disappointments of my father. It keeps me from having my own identity before God. For me, this means entrusting my father and all my unanswered questions into the hands of God—trusting in God’s character rather than my insight.
I believe we can honor our fathers and be grateful for all they have taught us while still moving forward to discover our own identity before God. We need to wear our own coats. Coats given to us by a heavenly father who knows us perfectly and will empower us for our own quest.