Lessons From My Father


Sean McDowell shares important life lessons he has learned from his father, Josh.

When I received word that Ron Carlson—the great apologist and the father of my friends Jason and Jared Carlson—had died suddenly, my heart broke for the Carlson family. But I also know how proud they were of the life their father lived.

Given that my father is also an apologist, and a few years older than Ron, it got me thinking more than ever about the lessons I have learned from my dad. Below are a few of the first lessons that came to my mind. My dad has taught me so much about relationships, God, economics and more, so it was a challenge to know where to begin! These are just some of the key lessons that first came to my mind:

THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERY ISSUE. It’s human nature to believe the first account we hear of an event, especially if it fits our preconceived notions. When we hear views favorable to our opinions (whether political, religious, or other) we tend to believe them, and if we hear views unfavorable to our opinions we tend to doubt them, even before we consider the evidence. My dad has told me countless times to weigh all the evidence before making up my mind. And I have seen him model this. He often says, “Remember, son, there are two sides to every issue. Try to understand both sides, and consider all the evidence, before making up your mind.” This is essentially the same wisdom Solomon gave to his son in Proverbs 18:17: “The first to speak in court sounds right—until the cross-examination begins.” Do you consider both sides before making up your mind?

BELIEVE THE BEST IN OTHERS. Years ago my wife and I worked for a college funding company. Some of our coworkers spoke negatively of the president of our company, whom we held (and still hold) in high regard. Rather than believing the rumors I went straight to the president, as my dad had taught me, to get his side of the story and believe the best in him unless we found reliable evidence to the contrary. It turned out that our coworkers were totally misinformed and spreading hurtful rumors. I wish I could say I have always done this, as I’m sure there were many times when I have not believed the best about others. But this is a principle I try to live by. Do you believe the best in others?

WORK HARD. My dad is one of the hardest workers I have ever known. In fact, I have never met someone who worked harder than my dad. I can remember many early mornings and late nights seeing my dad writing and researching to get ahead. My father is certainly brilliant, but much of his success is due to his sheer determination to work hard. He applied this work ethic not just to his job but to his family as well. Seeing this in his life has motivated me to work hard in sports, school, work, and in my relationships, as well. Again, Solomon gave this advice to his son, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). How hard do you work?

ENJOY LIFE. If you hang around my father for five minutes you will realize that he thoroughly enjoys life. In fact, if you are ever within a few hundred feet of him (especially at movie theaters!) you are certain to hear his signature laugh. He loves to tell jokes, relive funny incidents, and find the humor in almost anything. He is as intense about life as anyone I have ever met, and yet he always finds the joy in life. Do you enjoy life?

YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM. Whenever I started feeling sorry for myself growing up my father often reminded me of this principle. You may think this is easy for him to say, but if anyone would have the right to be a victim it would be my dad. He was sexually abused as a child, had an older sister commit suicide, and grew up with an alcoholic father. And yet he takes responsibility for his own life and refuses to see himself as a victim. In an age where it is in vogue to claim victimhood because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or some other factor, my father has refused to let me see myself as a victim. I may not choose my circumstances, but I do choose how to respond. Are you a victim?

There are so many other lessons from my father I could share. But I hope these are enough to encourage and challenge you for today. And just for today, work hard and enjoy life!

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