On Fatherhood

“God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.” -Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

A dear friend recently sent me a text message. “Got any advice for a soon to be father?”

I once heard someone say in jest, “One of the wonderful things about having kids of your own is that now you’ll be able to try out all those things you’ve been wanting to try out on other people’s kids.”

I did not give him this reply, but the casual nature of text messaging allowed me to give him a very brief answer. I told him the best advice I could give was to pray a lot. But I misspelled best because I was busy doing something else. Ordinarily, I would have been satisfied with this answer and moved on, but the question kept bugging me for quite a while.

I finally came up with something I liked a little bit better. “Being a father is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Enjoy every minute. Squeeze that baby every chance you get.”

This response made me feel better in a Hallmark Card sort of way, but I am still not satisfied. Perhaps in part because I want to know the answer myself. More likely though,  it is because I feel a very real weight of responsibility as a father. Fatherhood is not a role in which a man should casually enter. There are fewer roles with more grave responsibility, and it is something that I take very seriously.

 “God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.”

Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

What does it take to be a father? As simple as it sounds, the first requirement is you have to be a man. There is no substitution. Perhaps another day I will write about being a man.

Aside from being a man, there are quite a few other ingredients that come together to make a father: Love, protection, wisdom, provision, wit, discipline, humor, ingenuity, dedication, patience, knowledge, resolve, and fortitude. This is not an exhaustive list, and I have left out amounts because each father is unique, and learning to balance these elements is what fatherhood is all about. One of the key ingredients is faithfulness, which is what keeps the whole thing together.

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6

Without faithfulness, there is no guarantee that the father, or even the family, will last.

Growing up, I had a healthy fear of my father. A cluttered, messy house never failed to frustrate my dad. Whenever the house was a wreck, he usually started with this speech. “Y’all are killing your momma. Just look at this house.” He would say in exasperation. 

“Let’s go outside so we can see it better.” I smarted off once.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am alive today, because I thought my Dad was going to kill me. He talked to me like a man that day, which was far worse and scarier than the whipping that I received afterward. There are some things that only a father can say to a child. A hardheaded teenage boy may need some verbal encouragement from a father that would send a social worker into lockdown mode.

The role of a father demands hard love, and discipline. The Bible says it much plainer and with greater authority than I can.

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

Fathers must be willing and able to discipline their children. There are some aspects of fatherhood that frankly are not fun. I must confess that knowing when and how to discipline is a something that I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and understanding. I cannot say that it would be easier to not discipline my children. If I really love my children, I will discipline them.

I Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

Fathers are a rare. Fathers are irreplaceable. With a scarcity of fathers in today’s postmodern society, I frequently hear the term Father Figure used by people who did not grow up with a father. Sometimes I hear it from parents who are raising children without a father, many times in reference to a teacher. Webster’s definition for Father Figure is, “A person often of particular power or influence who serves as an emotional substitute for a father.” I’m not certain that there is a substitute for a father. Without discounting the influence of a teacher, there is a role that only a father can fill. Although in context of faith, the scripture indicates that there is a ratio of 10,000 teachers to not many fathers.

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For better or for worse, parents are the greatest influences on a child’s life. Whether a father is actively fulfilling his role in a child’s life, or neglecting his duty, the child feels the influence, whether positive or negative. It is a sad reality that many people grow up without the presence of a father in their home. Perhaps even worse than a father being absent, is an abusive father being present.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

The Bible uses language that grates the nerves and feelings of modern American culture. Fatherless. It is a sad word. There is an implication that there are two categories of children: sons and daughters, and fatherless. Furthermore, the fatherless are afflicted. Fathers are irreplaceable. Fortunately for the fatherless, there is the church.

I would like to revisit the original question: “Got any advice for a soon to be father?” I do not claim to be an authority on fatherhood, but God did bless me with one of the best fathers that ever lived. That may not be your story. You cannot choose your father, but you can decide what kind of father your children will have. Be the best father that you can be.

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Portrait of a Southern Gentleman, or Things I Learned From My Dad

I was brushing my teeth this week, and while I generally do it every day, I can’t remember which day, so, I was brushing my teeth this week. I look in the mirror while I’m brushing my teeth. I was taken off guard to see that my forearms have grown considerably since I’ve been working in a more strenuous environment. For a moment, I thought that I was looking at my Dad’s arms.

I think my earliest memories of my father is of him splitting wood in the back yard. His forearms swelling as they gripped the maul. I was watching from my upturned five gallon bucket chair. Now I see him open the chicken pen and feed the chickens. Now I am standing on the back porch watching Dad wade through the flooded back yard in the pelting rain with a chicken under each arm. I watch a chicken snake as long as a fishing pole swim between his legs. I remember him killing the snake with a hoe. I remember him loading a rusty wood stove with the wood that he split. I remember riding around in his red Mazda. Mostly, I remember him coming home from work just about every day. Because my Dad is a faithful man.

Proverbs 20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?

My Dad did not teach me how to be faithful, he showed me. He has been faithful to his wife. He showed me the importance of loving your wife.

“In 1936c King Edward VIII of England abdicated the throne to marry a woman from the United States. He would rather marry that woman than be the king of England. I don’t know what it’s like to be the King of England, but I do know what it’s like to love a woman.” -Perry Wells at the dedication of Wesley Wells.

My Dad has been faithful to his family. He loves his kids. He has shown me how to love my children. How to speak kind and lovingly. Dad never talks to babies like babies, he talks to them like they’re grown people. I think that may be why children love him so much.

Dad went to work every day because he was faithful to his family and to his job. He only took vacation time to take us to camp meeting, and Alabama Revival Conference, and Men’s Retreat, and Youth Explosion and Back to School Rally. Dad’s family was his top priority and the best thing he could do for us was to take us to church.

My Dad has been faithful to his God. We missed about two Sunday services in my life to go the family reunion at Uncle Freddy’s place on the river. There was never any question of whether we were going to church. Even when times were strange. Not to say it couldn’t have happened, but I never once remember thinking that my Dad might backslide. Dad didn’t just attend church, he lived it at home.

Dad would have been an excellent candidate for college, but he did not have the opportunity. He started working in a foundry right out of High School. And so he worked all of my life, getting promotions as I grew older. I remember Dad buying a set of World Book Encyclopedias from a door to door salesman. I read through them about twice. A year. For the next thirteen years. Dad gave me a hunger for learning and an appetite for literature. Dad values learning in a way that I hardly saw in the public education system. He is a voracious reader, and because of this, there is hardly a topic that he isn’t at the very least conversationally knowledgeable.

Which brings us to conversations. I’ve never met someone that Dad couldn’t have a conversation with. My Father can talk to anyone about anything. Whenever Dad found out that Pastor Dillon was considering me for a Youth Pastor position in Winchester, Virginia, Dad called him up and talked to him like they had known each other for years and as if Pastor Dillon had been expecting the call. Dad has always been my biggest salesman. Perhaps you’re reading this blog because he forced you to read about a town drunk. Thanks for reading. And thank you Dad for being my biggest fan.

My Dad is a music lover. He would drive us boys around in the truck and we’d listen to Motown and British Invasion on the oldies station. He loved to sing along with the radio. I love to hear him sing at church too. My favorite selection from his repertoire is House Of Gold. I can’t imagine any voice but his singing…

Some people cheat, they steal and lie
For gold and what it can buy
But don’t they know that on the judgement day
Gold and Silver will melt away?

What good is gold and silver too
If your heart’s Not pure and true?
Oh sinner heed me when I say
That gold and silver will melt away

I’d rather be in a deep dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God, and doom my soul

After he realized that I didn’t like hunting or fishing, and after I played the broom for two years, Dad bought me my first guitar. It was a sacrifice at the time, but Dad sent me to Mars Music and I picked out the Squier Strat Pack, “Rock N’ Roll in a box, everything you need is right here.” The salesman said. Dad also paid for my lessons with Marky Vincent. I still play that guitar everyday. I keep it out so it’s easily accessible, I think about my Dad every time I play it. Sometimes I play his favorite requests and imagine him listening in, bobbing his head and singing along, even though he is so far away. House of the Rising Sun, My Girl, Every Breath You Take.

Dad showed me how to tell a story. That’s why you, dear reader, have made it this far reading an essay that you will not be graded on. Dad knows how to captivate your attention and get you genuinely interested in a story. He sometimes leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next while he shakes his head and rocks back and forth laughing so hard that he cries and loses his breath. Dad knows how to flavor a story with colloquialisms, short sayings that are stories in themselves, sometimes bizarre but still relatable. Growing up I thought everyone’s dad was as good of a communicator as my dad. The older I got the more I realized that Dad is a naturally gifted bard. Here are a selection of my favorite of his colloquialisms.

“Dangerous as doo-dooing in a well.”
“Heavy as a widow’s heart.”
“Goofy as an eight day clock.”
“Wild as a team of goats.”
“Ugly as pootin’ in church.”
“Mean as a snake.”

It was September 11th, 2017. I was vacuuming the church in the altar area, listening to Dragnet on my headphones when I got a call from Mom. She was crying. “I got some bad news. Dad has cancer.”

Cancer. I’d heard of it. A terrible disease that happens to other people and their family members. Cancer takes on a new meaning when it happens to you or someone you love.

Dad’s response was, “If God heals me, I’m going to live for God. If He doesn’t heal me, I’m going to live for God.”

It’s been a rough few months. A hard time. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve prayed a lot. There are a lot of things I don’t understand. I don’t know why my Dad got cancer. I don’t know why the first doctor missed it nearly a year ago. I don’t know why we found out so late. I don’t know why the medicine doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know why God hasn’t healed him. I don’t know why…but this I do know:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

For the duration of my adult life, I’ve called my dad just about every day. He was there to give council. He was there to comfort when we had a miscarriage. He was there when the money was tight. I’ve been able to share a lot with my dad over the years. Every time I hit a major milestone in my life he would rejoice with me, then he’d quote this scripture:

III John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

It’s not an easy thing to think about passing from this life into eternity. Recent events in my life have caused me to reassess my priorities. When I weigh what it is important in the light of eternity it is sobering to think that what most men are breaking their back and neglecting family to obtain does not even make the list of important things. But I don’t want to be like most men, I want to be a faithful man.

Thank you Dad.
Thank you for showing me how to walk in truth.
Thank you for being a man’s man.
Thank you for whipping me when I smarted off to you.
Thank you for being faithful to Mom. Thank you for loving her and honoring your vows. Thank you for sticking together through hard times, through hellish times.
Thank you for being faithful to God. I know that you loved the book of Job, but I didn’t think that you were going to have to relate to it on this level. Thank you for not charging God foolishly.
Thank you for taking out a second mortgage to send me to Bible college. Thank you for raising me to follow the will of God even though it broke your heart when I moved eleven hours away to pursue God’s will.
Thank you for living what you believed.
Thank you for making me get a haircut.
Thank you for buying me my first guitar.
Thank you for buying me my second guitar.
Thank you for giving me my first vehicle, the purple Tacoma.
Thank you for teaching me how to drive a manual transmission.
Thank you for giving me my second vehicle just in time for college. The old Plymouth Grand Voyager.
Thank you for paying for all the times that I went over my minutes talking to my future wife.
Thank you for showing me how to be a man.
Thank you for teaching me how to work.
Thank you for listening to me flesh out all the sermons I preached over the years.
Thank you for loving me.
Thank you for being a faithful man.