A Man and His Father

The following is the text of a talk I delivered at The Huddle, a lunchtime Life Group for men I founded with my friend Nate Barrett in September 2011.  I gave this talk to 57 men who had gathered for lunch, encouragement and prayer on Wednesday, December 14, 2011.

The Bible uses the word “Father” 1103 times!  That’s partly because Jesus called God his Father, but it’s also because fathers are the significant influencers and shapers of the next generation.  There is amazing power for good in fatherhood to shape values, to inspire generosity and sacrifice, to instill emotional and spiritual health into families.  I would say the greatest people—in terms of character and accomplishment--that I have had the privilege to know almost all had great fathers.

That being said, fathers also have an unusual power to wound their wives and children.  As a pastor I’ve sat with countless people, grown ups, even elderly people, who tell me how their father hurt, disappointed or shattered them as people.  I think of a friend of mine who is nearing retirement.  His father, some years ago, cut off all communication with him.  My friend doesn’t know why.  His father won’t talk to him.  This is a burden he carries.  Even though he has a great wife, family, and all the trappings of success—he feels he can’t get back something of immeasurable worth that he’s lost.

I wish you could have met my Father.  His name was Virgil, and after beating cancer four times, it finally got the best of him on February 9, 2007.  Yes, I’m glad  I was born third and my parents’ choice of names improved by the time they got to me! 

I admired my dad, like most sons do.  He was a scientist who had invented things for the first moonshot.  When I was a little boy, I thought he knew everything there was to know!

My father enjoyed watching birds and all kinds of music.  His own father could play most instruments.  My dad loved to watch the stock market and had advanced degrees in engineering and business.

As I grew from being a boy to a man, I began to realize dad wasn’t perfect.  He suffered from clinical depression.  He seemed to have little energy after work.  He rarely played with my two older brothers or me.  He was emotionally withdrawn from most people and had few friends, though he was a likable person.

I’m telling you this story because my own father, despite his faith, his success at his work, and his faithfulness to his marriage and his children, lived an unengaged life with most people, including his own family.

I’ve told you some things about my dad.  He left me plenty else that I am grateful for.  I can remember when he was unemployed for a time during the recession of 1980-1982, and he never bought new clothes or new shoes during that time.  I can remember he drove a taxi to make ends meet.  I remember that he made dinner when my mom had to begin to work full time.  I remember his humility and quiet disposition.  I remember his strong, happy attitude when he was dying of cancer.

I’m telling you this story, because you and I, whether we are yet fathers or not, need to be vigilant in cultivating ourselves in three significant areas in order to become the best fathers we can be—to leave a legacy among our children that is extraordinary.  It is never too late to begin on these things.  Even if you’ve blown it as a Dad, God can do wonders through a father committed to him at any stage of fatherhood.

1.   Engagement over Passivity.  Maybe you get home and find you’re too tired to play or that you just want to withdraw from the world.  Some men do this through vices like drinking too much or through something that’s not bad like watching TV.  In the course of that pursuit, they disengage from their wives and children.  In order to build your children more into the people you hope they’ll be, it will require a conscious effort of engagement.
2.   Serving over directing.  Sometimes it’s easy to adopt a frame of thinking wherein we feel that because we are the leaders of our homes—a God-given role and responsibility—things would go much better if the rest of our family would just do the things we say.  Jesus talked about the nature of leading and greatness in terms of serving.  He said, “Whoever would be the greatest among you must be the servant of all.”  Serving doesn’t mean that you’ll do all the menial jobs around the house, but it might.  Serving doesn’t mean that you’ll never make significant decisions, but it might mean you accept the opinions of your family in making them.  Serving doesn’t mean you’ll be the doormat, but it does mean you’ll regularly set aside your agenda for what is important to your family.

3.   Being over Doing.  Men have a lot to do.  Married men with children have an even greater list of obligations.  Work, listening to your wife and building her up, disciplining your children, taking care of your house, mowing the lawn, fixing things that are broken, maintaining vehicles, following your team, church.  The list is incomplete, but it’s a lot of stuff.  We can begin to imagine that our families are loved because of all we do for them.  It’s a trap that men often fall into.  But doing for others has never created great relationships or built great people—those things come from being with others, spending time, listening, talking, laughing, sharing your feelings.  I’m not suggesting that those things come naturally.  They didn’t for my dad Virgil, but I wish he’d realized how much I needed it.

I’m talking to you about this, men, because the truth about fatherhood is that once you have become one, you will never cease to be one.  Beyond that, everyone has a father, whether he’s been present or not.

Maybe you’re like me, and you had a pretty good dad, but you find yourself needing to resist some of the deficits he passed on.  Or perhaps you had a lousy father and you find yourself constantly wondering how to do it or fearing that you’re going to make the same mistakes.  Maybe you’ve never had a father, and you’re trying to figure it out as you move through life.

Whatever the case is, gentlemen, I’m certain we can all find things to talk about and pray about today because a man is always contending with who his father is or was in one way or another.

As a focus for our discussions around the tables, I’d like to share with you my favorite Bible verse that comes in handy so often in my life.  It’s found at the end of the Bible.  Revelation 21:5--He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Some questions for your discussion:
1.   What are you taking away from this talk today?
2.   Who was your father?
3.   What are some ways you need to grow as a father?

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