Becoming a Real Father
The Encyclopedia Britannica gives a half page to the accomplishments of the son of President John Adams, Charles Francis Adams. Adams followed the political trail of his father and became a U.S. diplomat to Great Britain. The encyclopedia makes no mention of Charles' family, but Charles' diary does.
An entry one day read: "Went fishing with my son today—a day wasted."
Another diary, that of his son Brook Adams, gives us a different perspective: "Went fishing with my father—the most wonderful day of my life."
Interesting, isn't it, how a little boy's perspective could be so different from his dad's?
But it's true of me, too. I can remember tugging and half-pulling my dad out of his favorite chair while he was trying to read the evening newspaper. I wanted to play catch. He usually let me win the tug-of-war, sometimes reluctantly. Those were wonderful evenings.
There were fishing trips with Dad to Canada when I caught a trophy Northern Pike. And another outing to a local lake where he netted a small boy's catfish—a fish so small that it went through the holes in the net. He always used to kid me about that fish—his laughter still echoes in my mind when I recall that skinny fish slipping through the net.
It's interesting how the mind can play tricks on us adults. Looking back, those days of vacation and moments of memories are among my most cherished possessions. Yet, when my own kids were at that stage of life where they wanted me in their lives making those kind of memories with them, it seemed to me that playing catch and going fishing were not nearly productive enough—no measurable goal was achieved. Until, of course, I got a few moments to reflect on the value God places on a little boy or a little girl.
I was reminded recently that not all men today have those memories of time with their dads etched on the slate of their hearts. Jeff Schulte, an associate of mine at FamilyLife, once wrote the following letter to his ministry partners, thanking them for their partnership in strengthening families. It speaks of memories of a different kind:
I can still picture my dad bouncing me on his knee, coaching me in little league, showing me how to shine my shoes, helping me reel in my first fish, and telling me stories about his early days as an undercover detective on the Dayton police force.
I can still hear him saying the words, "Son, I love you." I can imagine him messing up my hair, wrestling with me on the living room floor, and sharing a hot dog with me at a Cincinnati Reds game.
I can still see him puffing up his chest when he talked about me to his friends. He was proud to be my dad. He would do anything for me—I was his son, he was my dad. I was a chip off the old block.
I can still see all this and much more, but I can't see it in the reservoir of fond memories. Instead, I recall it from an imagination and yearning that wished then and wishes now that it were so. My dad left home when I was three. I never really knew him.
When I drive home from the office, I'll often turn off the radio and in the quiet of the car I'll think about a little blond-headed three-year-old somewhere who will grow up knowing his dad because you and I decided we wanted to make a difference.
I'm 26 years old. I still miss my dad (even though that's hard to admit). I even cry sometimes when I'm honest with myself about how I feel. Please pray for my dad. I don't believe he's met Jesus.
The most piercing statement in Jeff's letter are the words, "I never really knew him." I couldn't help reflecting on the number of children today who will replay a similar record in their minds. No, not just those from broken homes, but those whose homes have a father and a mother in name only.
Becoming a father
Some years ago at a Weekend to Remember® getaway here in Little Rock I remember one man's statement to me at the end of the conference. He grabbed my hand and blurted out, "I became a father this weekend!" When I asked him when his wife had given birth during the conference, he said, "Oh, no. She didn't have a baby—we already have three children. You see, I had 'fathered' three children, but I wasn't being a 'father' to them. And this weekend I decided I was going to become a real father."
The little boy who went fishing with his dad, Brook Adams, lived most of his life as an agnostic and a skeptic, defying the roots of his Puritan ancestry. Near the end of his 79-year life he returned to his home church, overcame his shyness, and made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I wonder if God used the memory of the fishing trip with his dad, linked with the spiritual values his father taught him, to bring Brook Adams to faith in Christ.
So this month, take a kid fishing and teach him one spiritual truth. Just one memory. Just one truth. It may be "the most wonderful day" of his life.
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