It was just a grassless patch of dirt in our backyard. How could I know what it meant to my son? Until he wanted to go see it with me one more time before we sold our home of 25 years.
It was home plate for our wiffle ball games when he was five. We reminisced about the time we played ball together for the first time. Him with his little yellow wiffle bat, me pitching from a few feet away.
Two pitches. Two strikes as he chopped at the ball. So I showed him again how to swing evenly and keep your eye on the ball. But this time, I added, "I really believe you can do it." BAM! Way over the old pitcher's head!
That's been a lifetime reminder to me of the incredible power of a father's encouragement. And my wife's wisdom early in our marriage - "Don't ever forget the power of your words." She had the Bible backing her up. "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Proverbs 18:21).
A dad is a powerful, irreplaceable factor in shaping a child's life. Or shattering a life.
For example, the Bible commands, "Father, do not exasperate your children" (Ephesians 6:4). I'm sure mothers exasperate kids, too, but dads have a special gift in that area. Why? We exasperate because of expectations. Sometimes trying to make our child what we want them to be rather than what God created them to be.
There are always exceptions, but while Mom communicates a more unconditional love, we tend - inadvertently - to tie ours to expectations. So many times I've heard the heart cry, "Nothing's good enough for my dad. I can never satisfy him."
We can get them to perform, but sometimes at the cost of losing their heart.
In working with young people my whole life, I've seen all kinds of destructive behaviors traceable, at least in part, to a daddy deficit. The hole in a child's heart left by the absence or distance, the neglect or abuse of a dad.
Girls who try to fill the daddy-spot by looking for love in all the wrong places. Guys brooding with a resentful anger, lost with no model of how to be a man.
The instinctive cry of a child is, "Watch me, Daddy!" But when all we see is what's wrong, we crush their worth and their confidence. And we disobey God's clear directive: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is useful for building ___________ (let's insert a child's name here) up" (Ephesians 4:29).
Not to be cute, but I've discovered in my family and in so many families these four A's that describe great dads.
Affirmation - Frequently telling them things they do and things they are that are positive. Lots of people tell them what's wrong with them. They need to hear from their father the good things God did when He created them. "Water what you want to grow."
Attention - They're starved for it. If Dad's busyness or preoccupation deprives them of his active involvement in their life, they will seek that attention and acceptance somewhere else. Often, the wrong somewhere. So I set a goal, not always achieved, but always aimed for. Give each child all of me - my undivided attention - at least once each day. They change a little every day. I didn't want my child to be a stranger.
Apology - Tough one for a guy. But three of the most healing words in the English language are, "I was wrong." Three words fathers don't say much. Scripture says, "Confess your faults to each other...so you may be healed" (James 5:16). A father who always has to be right doesn't gain respect - he loses it. And sows seeds of resentment and frustration that grow a rebel.
Affection - The daddy deficit left by a silent or unaffectionate father is a disaster waiting to happen. Every child needs to know Daddy loves them - loving them in ways meaningful to them and appropriate for their age and gender. If they don't feel that love, they'll try to find it elsewhere. And end up breaking our heart and theirs.
A man who's had a dad who gave those treasures has a dad to be honored! One of the "Incredibles"! If your dad didn't, be what you wish you'd had.
Which is easier said than done. I wasn't a father for long before I realized our kids are our mirror. Revealing our baggage, our brokenness. Our inadequacy.
I can honestly say that if I didn't have Jesus in my life before, being a dad would have made me run to Him. I was like the guy in the Bible who said, "I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate." Which drove me to the same answer he found: "Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin...Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:15, 18-19). That's hope!
I don't have to repeat the mistakes of generations before me. Because, through His death for our sins, Jesus has "redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18). With Jesus, I can be a cycle-breaker!
I need His forgiveness for how I've hurt those I love. I need His love to be able to give the love my family needs. I need the power that brought Him back from death to be the man I need to be.
The happiest "father's day" a man can have is the day he finds his Ultimate Father. Through Jesus, His Son.