I went to the men's study Friday morning. It was an intro class to the first big section of the study called "Unpacking the Past." The author called us to honestly look at our past, at the things that shaped who we are, the events that molded our lives and face up to them and learn from them or we can never take control of our lives. We will always be responding to stimuli we don't even acknowledge. He showed what he meant by talking about his childhood and the things that formed him. The negative things he had to overcome came from his father never saying he loved him, or was proud of him, never really talking to him, teaching him, or showing much interest. He was there, but he wasn't REALLY there. These were all things that affected how this teacher lived his life for years until he confronted it and decided to move on. In the discussion period after the class some of the men also talked about how their fathers were distant figures who were never emotionally involved in their children's lives.
It made me think, and I brought this up in discussion, that I must have been even luckier than I thought in who I got as a father. I've (almost) always known and acknowledged that my dad did a great job as a dad, but the comparison really makes it stand out. Dad got up every morning earlier than he had to so he would have time to read us a chapter out of the Bible while we were eating breakfast. Then he would walk us to the bus stop and we would play catch until the bus came. After he had to give up preaching, he got a very good job as an insurance salesman that paid very well, but most of the contacts and sales meetings were, of course, in the evenings. He quit that job and took one that paid a much less because he felt he was missing us growing up. He wanted to spend time with us.
Perhaps what I most appreciate today -- and appreciated least then -- was that Dad taught us to work. We had what I like to call a "minifarm". Five acres with hogs, chickens, dogs and cats, and a garden so big that not only did we gorge ourselves on fresh produce all summer long and freeze and/or can enough to last us the remainder of the year, but we kept pretty much the whole church (200 people) in free, fresh produce all summer long. We came home from school and had chores to do in the afternoon. We worked hard most of the weekends and throughout the summer. Dad showed us first hand the need for responsibility, hard work, and doing things right the first time. As hard as we worked, Dad always made time for fun. We'd get up early and work hard throughout the morning and early afternoon, then take off and go swimming in one of the local swimming holes, or we'd play baseball or basketball or football -- nice to have a fifty yard long field almost equally wide to play in. Dad regularly told us he loved us and was proud of us. Before bed every night we gathered for a family prayer. He was involved.
That's not to say Dad didn't mess up sometimes. He definitely wasn't perfect, but that brings me to my earliest memory. It occurred, I believe, in South Carolina, from which we moved a week after my third birthday, so it was early in my life. I'm not real sure exactly what happened, just that Dad was angry with me about something and hollered. Mom stopped him and said something, again I'm real fuzzy here, but what I remember clearly is Dad stopping, getting down on the floor so he could look me in the eyes and say he was sorry. He meant it. He said he was sorry, that what he said was something he should never have said and repeated that he was sorry. He then prayed, with me, to God for forgiveness. I've never forgotten. To this day, I am willing to admit when I'm wrong -- I'm stubborn, but if the facts are there, I'll admit it -- and apologize. I've apologized up hill and down hill. I'm willing to listen when others approach me. I try to analyze myself and my actions honestly. Do you think Dad's example might have had something to do with that?
My dad isn't perfect. There were times I was so mad at him I thought I'd never want to see him again -- of course, some of those times were because I wasn't perfect. He messed up, but he loved us. He tried his best, and tried to keep getting better and learn from his mistakes. He studied the Bible for help in getting better. He was there for us, taught us the things he thought were important about being a man, spurred us onward and propped us up. He taught us about God.