Fatherhood Is…

I love this old preaching story. It has been told and retold for years. In Spain, a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an advertisement in a Madrid newspaper. The advertisement read:

Dear Paco,

Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you.

Your Father.

On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Don’t tell me, the relationship between a father and their children isn’t important! That simple story takes us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Luke.  Jesus and the disciples are in Galilee. That fact is important because the Master was extremely popular there. The crowds followed him everywhere. One of the people in the crowd on that day was a man by the name of Jairus. His name means “God enlightens.” In his little corner of the world, Jairus was a significant man. Luke tells us he was a ruler in the local synagogue. What does that mean? He was not a member of the clergy. However, that does not mean his position was not important. He acted more as an administrator or trustee over the synagogue. Sometimes, the position was paid. Sometimes, it was volunteer. Regardless, the position was always held by a respected good man in the congregation. Jairus was a good man, yet hardship does not discriminate.

This good man was facing his greatest nightmare. His twelve-year-old daughter was dying. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jairus fights his way through the crowd to ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is his only hope. I have read verses 40-42 countless times this week. With every reading, I was more moved by the emotions of the father. It isn’t just Jairus’ nightmare. It is every parent’s nightmare. The death of their children. I do not know how you can read this story and not be moved. She was twelve years old. It is not easy being twelve years old. In a certain way you are nowhere. It is the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Yet, in this story, it is the end of life, itself. The daughter is dying. Yet, the story is not about death. In the end she lives. The story is about parenthood. This story gives us three divine truths about fatherhood. Let us look at them one at a time.

First, fatherhood is important! In other words, your children must be the top priority in your life. This is an old story about a young man standing in front of a judge. He was about to hear his sentence. It was an awkward moment for the judge. He had known the young man since childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father–a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?” There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book but lost the boy!”

Fathers do much more than pay the bills. Mothers may love their children unconditionally, but fathers add sense of security and stability to the home. That is extremely important. A father’s presence makes a great difference to the life of a child. The statistics don’t lie. These statistics are a few years old, but not much has changed. They are still painful to recite. According to fatherhoodfactor.com:

  1. 43% of US children live in fatherless homes.
  2. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  3. 80% of rapists come from fatherless homes.
  4. 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.
  5. 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.

Don’t tell me fathers aren’t important. If you want to be a good father, then make your children your top priority. This is a fair question. Do your children know they are your top priority? Fatherhood is important.

Second, fatherhood is challenging! In 1909, Sonora Louise Smart Dodd (1882-1978) sat in church with her father on Mother’s Day. It must have been a difficult sermon to hear because her mother died years earlier during childbirth. She and her five siblings were raised with love and care by their father, William Jackson Smart (1842-1919), a Civil War veteran. The 27-year-old Sonora began to think about the great sacrifices her father made for her and her siblings. Then, she began to wonder why there wasn’t a Father’s Day. The next day, she began a crusade to establish one. She began by enlisting the support of the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA. They declared the first Father’s Day to be June 19, 1910. It was a big success. Soon other communities and states began to recognize Father’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) supported the idea of a national Father’s Day in 1916 and President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) did the same in 1924. Some things don’t change. Nothing happened in Washington DC for decades. It took our man in Washington DC Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) in 1966 to sign a presidential proclamation making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day. Six years later, 1972, 58 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) signed a law-making Father’s Day a national holiday. I tell the history of Father’s Day for one reason.

Senora Smart Dodd recognized what we must never forget. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood has nothing to do with golfing, boating, or cooking out. Fatherhood has everything to do with sacrificing. Fatherhood has everything to do with adapting. Fatherhood is challenging because our children are always changing. Your college graduate does not want to be treated like a newborn babe. In the Bible lesson for today, Jairus is trying to help his twelve-year-old daughter. I have been the father of a twelve-year-old daughter, twice, and it isn’t easy. Enjoy your children at the stage they are right now but be prepared. It is going to change soon. They will change so your relationship with them must change. That is so challenging.Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging.

Third and finally, fatherhood is eternal! In the story, the twelve-year-old girl dyes. Her life ended just as it was about to begin. Her life would have been over, if not for Jesus. He resurrects her. In other words, he brings her back to life. She is one of a select few in the Bible who were resurrected. Do you remember the others who were resurrected in the Bible? There were nine in all, 3 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament. Except for Jesus, do you know what happened to the other eight? They all died again in time. However, their resurrections were just the foreshadowing of eternal life. The girl lived because her father introduced her to Jesus.

Fatherhood is not just being a positive role model. Fatherhood is not just getting the person ready for life. Fatherhood is getting the person ready for eternity. Children have so many wonderful options today. They can take lessons and join teams. They can take advanced classes and go to camp. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. However, none of those things are preparing them for eternity. If you want your child to live for eternity, then be like Jairus. Introduce your children to Jesus. How could you enjoy heaven without them? Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood is eternal.

Fred Craddock (1928-2015) taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. No one influenced my preaching more than Fred Craddock. No one can tell a story like him. Let me tell you one of his stories.

One summer Fred and his wife decided to get away for a few days. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant and looked forward to a private meal—just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table. “Where you folks from?” he asked amicably. “Oklahoma.” “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living? “I teach homiletics at a seminary.” “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. “What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was.  

“When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. Because of my past, I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. “Who are you, son? Whose boy, are you?’ I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God. You come from a great legacy. Go and claim it.” The old man looked across the table at Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me. Those words changed my life.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. It was at that moment Craddock remembered something. The good people of Tennessee had elected Ben Hooper, that illegitimate boy, to be their governor. This is the point.

You may have had the greatest dad in the world, or your dad may have been a complete loser. It doesn’t really matter because you come from a great legacy. Never forget it. You are a child of God!

What Dads Deserve

Today, we are in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. This story does not stand in isolation. It is just one in a series of stories about Abraham. Do you remember what has happened to Abraham to this point? When we are first introduced to him, his name is Abram. That name means “the father of many.” Of all the people on the face of the earth, Abram caught God’s eye. Not because of his sinless nature or his good looks. Instead, he caught God’s eye because of his character. In other words, he was a man who simply wanted to please God. In one of the great stories in the Bible, God promised Abram that he would someday be a father of a great nation. In time, his name is changed from Abram, the father of many, to Abraham, the father of the multitude. Everything sounds great except for one glaring fact.  It is as true today as it was then; God does things in God’s time. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, welcome their first-born into the world at the age of ninety-nine and ninety-eight. That birth not only ruined their retirement plans, but it demonstrated the power of God. They named their long-awaited son Isaac. All of this is necessary to understand this morning’s scripture lesson.

When Isaac was twelve years old, God decided to test Abraham. God must be number one in your life. The father-son team head off to make a sacrifice. Isaac does not know until the last second that he is the sacrifice. In the end, the life of a goat was taken, and the boy is spared. It is a cruel story in many ways. However, what I love about the story is it illustrates for us Abraham was a good father. It has been said, it is must easier to become a father, then to be a father. Let us look at three things dads deserve. Each one is illustrated in our story for today.

Dads deserve to be respected!

First, dads deserve to be respected. In the Genesis story, Isaac respected his father. He even let him tie him up and lay him on the altar. Let me say this clearly. Respect should never be given blindly. Respect must be earned. Fatherhood is not simply a biological act. Fatherhood is a relationship. What are you doing with your life to earn your children’s respect? Dads deserve to be respected. Do you, did you, respect your father?

Dads deserve to be trusted!

Second, dads deserve to be trusted. It really is quite a scene. Abraham and Isaac travel to a remote location. When the time comes for the sacrifice the father bounds the son. Abraham draws his knife to slay his son. At the last second God stops the killing. All these years later it is still shocking. Yet, there is no sign in the story Isaac stops trusting his father. Dads deserve to be trusted. Do you, did you, trust your father?

Dads deserve grace!

Third, dads deserve grace. Isaac must have needed some serious counseling after that day. He must have had a million questions and he must have had some sleepless nights. Yet, the relationship between Abraham and Isaac moved on. He forgave his father. I have never known a perfect father. However, I have known countless fathers who made mistakes and who needed to be forgiven. I have known fathers who have experienced grace. Maybe it is time you forgave your father? Dads deserve grace. Have you shown you father grace?If not, it is not too late.

My father, Ronald Adams, was born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1920. His father, my grandfather, Roger Adams, had a variety of jobs during the Great Depression. Growing up I never heard the word poverty, but money was tight. My father was just a child during the depression, but the poverty of those years never left him. I have worked with many who lived through the Great Depression. They reacted to the Depression in one of two ways. Either, they rejected the poverty and became very generous. Or, they feared poverty and became very frugal. My sister, Susan, is a much kinder person than me. She says our father was frugal. I say our father was cheap. He would not even buy new socks. He held the old ones up with rubber bands. He never handled money easily. Saving money was one of his great preoccupations. Through my eyes he was cheap.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Empire. My father was twenty-one years old. He and his brother, my Uncle Carlisle, volunteered for military service. My father joined the Army. My uncle joined the Navy. My uncle went to the Pacific. My father was in the medical corps and started off in North Africa. In time, he moved up to the boot of Italy as the war progressed. He must have experienced some horrible things. He died with those tales. He never spoke of those experiences. When the war ended in Europe, he prepared to move to Manila. The day before they were to leave, the orders were canceled because the first of the atomic bombs was dropped. When the war itself ended, my father arranged to stay in Europe. He wanted to do some sightseeing. It seemed to be a wise choice. He was in his mid-twenties, single with a high school education, and unemployed. He saw many things that most only see in pictures. Those may have been the happiest days of his life.

When he returned home, he used his G.I. Bill to get an education. He was an interior decorator by trade. He first went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then he went to the New York School of Interior Design. It was while he was in New York that he met my mother. They met at a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. They were married at a Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn and had their wedding reception at my grandparent’s home around the corner. They spent their wedding night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Staying in New York was never an option. He wanted always wanted to return to Ohio, his home.

In time, they would move to a magical place called Warren, Ohio. They bought their first home when my twin sisters, Susan, and Janet, were born. I was born seven years later. My mother was a dietitian who worked at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. My father was a buyer for Carlisle-Allen Department Store. As a child, I thought our home was boring. It was not until I became an adult, that I discovered it was exceptional. Our home was always stable, and my parents rarely fought. My parents went to church every Sunday and to work every day. In those days’ loyalty was a big deal. My father stayed with the store for over thirty years. On the day he retired, no one noticed, because no one cared. He gave his life to “the store,” and he deserved better. Yet, several years later when “the store” closed, he grieved.

On this Father’s Day, can I be honest with you? I never felt close to my father. I really do not know why. I like to think we were both good people. Everybody seemed to like him. He intimidated me. I do not want to sound critical. However, I want to be honest.

My father showed very little tolerance with me. I cannot remember a single time standing next to my father not feeling nervous. He never hit me, but I was always ready for his backhand. I was often the brunt of his jokes for his stand-up routine. I think, it is better to be yelled at and taken seriously, then laughed at and be dismissed. I yearned to have a relationship with my father, but it never came. My father died in 1996. I grieved when he died. However, I did not grieve for the relationship we had, because we had no relationship. I grieved for the relationship we never had and never will.

Several years ago, my sister’s mother-in-law died. Mrs. Naylor was 92 years old and she was part of my family’s life for decades. I attended the service and drove to the cemetery for the committal. It was not my first trip to that mausoleum. It is the same mausoleum that holds the remains of my parents. Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Naylor are directly across from my parents.

As I stood by my parents’ names on the wall, three things struck me. First, time goes fast. My father died almost twenty-five years ago. How could it be almost twenty-five years? How fast will the next twenty-five years go? I wonder where I will be twenty-five years from now. I wonder if I will still be alive. Second, I have a good life. I can trace all the best things in my life back to my parents. My mother made sure our home was filled with love. There was always enough to eat and drink. Our clothes were clean. Our home was warm. My parents gave me what every child really wants and needs – stability. Third, the time has come for me to stop being critical of my father and start remembering him with grace. Time has taught me the best you can do is the best best you can do. Perfection is impossible. I like to think my father did his best with me. It is not easy being a father. It is not easy being a parent. I am doing the best I can with my children. I hope they do not look for perfection. They did not receive it in me. I hope they look at me with grace. I have heard it said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.”   Happy Father’s Day!