Fathers and sons
By Tom Greene
The following excerpt asks every man some compelling
questions about his identity as a son, and as a father.
In almost every biography or autobiography I read, I can’t help
but notice the role the father/son relationship plays in that person’s life.
It’s huge. Sure there are those books by sons about their dads — Tim
Russert’s Big Russ and Me or Jim Nantz’s Always by My Side. But there are
countless other titles in which that thread, even in the background, proves
vital. Always, that relationship with a father becomes a powerful shaping
force, a foundation for all the accomplishments that merited the book in the
My father’s influence on my life was and is enormous. I
lived for that moment when he would tell me, “I love you, son. I’m so proud of
you.” I can promise you, no matter how much you may be aware of your own
limitations as a father, your son will look past every one of them and cling to
those two phrases like priceless jewels. Yet, I remember hearing those phrases
only once in my life.
Let me tell you that story.
I was raised in church. Our family filed into a pew every
service at Faith Tabernacle in downtown Oklahoma City. From a very young age, I
was taught the value of church and faithfulness to the house of God. But there
was a disconnect between the front door of the church and our front porch. I
don’t remember our family ever reading the Bible. We didn’t observe family
devotions. We didn’t pray together outside of the perfunctory grace at meals.
While I never doubted Dad’s belief in Jesus Christ, his
business and family relationships didn’t line up with Christian values. Dad was
the son of a Pentecostal preacher. He was raised in a rigid holiness
environment. He managed to hold onto the framework of a Christian confession,
but the rigidity of his upbringing caused something in his spirit to rebel. Dad
made sure our family heard the gospel. But the truly good news of Christ’s
life-transforming power never seemed to break through to the pain in his heart.
Despite my love for sports growing up, I was not a good athlete.
And I truly was an apple that fell some distance from the tree, because Dad was
a naturally gifted sportsman. Try as I might, I felt I only embarrassed him on
the baseball field. He, on the other hand, was a hometown hero in our softball
league. Heaven pity the pitcher in the way of one of his line drives. I never
felt I measured up.
Dad’s competitive drive was such it crippled his ability to
take pride in my accomplishments, even my developing athletic ability in later
years. In my junior high school years we began to play one-on-one basketball. I
cherished every game. But the day I won was the last time we ever played.
High school gave way to college. I followed Dad’s advice and
prepared for the business world by pursuing a marketing degree. And that’s when
God threw me the biggest curveball of my young life. I was 19 and happened to
be at church on one of those rare occasions when my parents were not with me. I
never heard an audible voice. There were no claps of thunder. But then and
there, God called me into ministry, and I wholeheartedly accepted that call.
Now, keep in mind we were a church-going family. My parents
respected the local minister. They had always held our church fellowship in
high regard. I’d heard my share of comments about our nation’s woes being the
result of today’s rejection of our forefathers’ faith. In my mind, when I told
my family of my encounter with God, I would be congratulated, even praised.
When I got home and told Mom, she said, “Why don’t you go on
to bed. Maybe things will be better in the morning.”
This was not the open-armed welcome I had envisioned.
It took awhile for me to fall asleep. My whole life had been
turned around. My dreams for the future had radically morphed. I approached the
breakfast table the next day with some hesitancy. Dad was already there, his
newspaper open. I wondered what Mom had told him. But he wasn’t volunteering
Every awkward moment between us seemed to shrink in
comparison to the discomfort I sensed in that moment. Finally, between his
bites of toast and nervous glances at the headlines, I struggled to express
what had happened to me the night before. I waited for his reply. A word of
encouragement? At least a neutral acknowledgment?
“I always wanted better for you,” he finally said. No
rancor. But I felt my stomach take a dive with his gently piercing disapproval.
“You’re already in college. You’re getting a degree that will get your foot in
the door in any number of companies.” A pause. “You should complete your degree
so you have something to fall back on when you fail in the ministry.”
My relationship with Dad continued to suffer strain. When
Mom died of cancer soon after that, he became embittered toward church and
ministry. As my own ministry developed, he found it impossible to overcome that
bitterness and take joy in my work. He would never have said so, but it was
clear he wanted to see me fail, to somehow justify the failure he perceived in
the church through my mother’s death.
When I was elected district youth director in Oklahoma, it
was an incredible day for our family. Pam and I felt confirmation of God’s will
and blessing. We gratefully acknowledged the recognition of our peers. But one
person could not rejoice with us — my dad.
I would be a wounded man today had not God worked His
marvelous grace into the relationship between Dad and me. But, isn’t that true
of all human relationships? Isn’t it true that every parent-to-child,
husband-to-wife, friend-to-friend and relative-to-relative bond you can name
can only truly thrive in God’s grace?
Let me tell you that story.
Dad died in August 2004. One of the greatest moments of my
life was when God allowed me to visit with Dad in his final months. He lived in
a nursing home struggling with a fading memory and weakening body. God answered
prayer when for five minutes in one of my visits Dad was suddenly restored to
his right mind.
Only five minutes, but in that five minutes we connected. We
shared some of the most pleasant conversation. I led Dad in a prayer of
personal faith in Jesus Christ. The bitterness of losing Mom melted from his
features. He looked into my face with a warmth and love I will carry to my
grave. Before he lapsed into renewed silence, he raised his head toward me.
“I love you, son,” he said. “I’m so proud of you.”
That was the single, clear affirmation I received from Dad
in our lifetime together. But what an effect that moment has had on who I am to
this day. And that moment was made possible by God’s grace. As a son, I tried
to reach points in life where I felt I didn’t need Dad’s affirmation. But
everything I was doing was not only to please God, but to somehow give my dad a
reason for joy, a reason to feel that gentle swell of loving pride. There, in
that little room, God broke through and made that longed-for moment a reality.
Perhaps your identity as a son has been a painful one. Maybe
your father seems so far above you that you believe you can never make him
proud. Or, perhaps you ache from the wounds of a father who would try to pull
you down to the same mistakes that have ruined his life.
If you are blessed with a godly, loving dad then you have
something of immeasurable value, something far too few of humanity’s sons
enjoy. Don’t squander that blessing. Never take for granted your dad’s legacy.
Determine that you will build on it.
Whatever measure of pain your relationship to your earthly
father brings you, or whatever measure of joy, I hope you can catch a glimpse
of a Heavenly Father who would embrace you. Jesus told His disciples after His
resurrection, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your
God” (John 20:17).
Imagine that — Jesus, the Son of God, telling you and
telling me we can share in His ultimate sonship. There are no favorite sons in
the kingdom of heaven. By God’s amazing grace, purchased with the blood of our
Elder Brother, we can turn to our Heavenly Father and be immersed in His
perfect and undying love.
An excerpt from National Men’s Ministries Director Tom
Greene’s recently released book, The Game Isn’t Over (Onward Books, 2009). The
National Men’s Ministries Leadership Conference is Feb. 5-7 in Branson,
TOM GREENE is national director of Men’s Ministries for the
Assemblies of God. For more about Tom visit tgresources.net.
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