"I just wish I would have known..."
Yesterday at Johnson Ferry, I "helped" preach the sermon in all three sanctuary services. (Just writing that makes me think of that annoying little girl in that 70's Shake and Bake commercial: "It's a sermon, and I helped!") Most of you people have no idea what I'm talking about. For the few of you do...that was free.
The sermon topic was "Missing Dads" and it was one message in our pastor's ongoing series on Contemporary American Values. Thomas Nelson, one of our Teaching Pastors, was slated to give the message. He invited me, a father of five and, according to him, Johnson Ferry's "resident expert on marriage and family" to give some practical application in the middle of his message.
Here's the truth that he didn't know: having five kids (aged 4-19) doesn't make a you a expert on anything related to parenting. What it does is point out more and more your inadequacies in all things related to raising children. The sermon Thomas and I ended up communicating together was for me more than anybody else...I just got to be a part of articulating it.
If you're interested in watching/hearing the message, you can find it at the Right from the Heart website at this link: Missing Dads.
So here it is on Monday afternoon and I'm sitting in my office at the church, minding my own business, when an older couple walks in. I say "hello" and the man introduces himself to me. He then tells me that he heard the sermon on Sunday and that he wanted to say "thanks for sharing."
Then he got quiet. His eyes began to mist up. He was obviously struggling to talk.
His wife then explained to me that they just came from visiting their son in jail. He had gotten into some significant legal trouble due to a number of DUI's. His most recent judge was gracious but gave some pretty rigid warnings about what might happen if he drinks again. They were both obviously overwhelmed.
Holding back his tears, the man went on to say this: "I just wish I would have known when he was younger just how big an impact my shortcomings as a dad would have on his life."
Let that percolate for a few seconds, fellas.
Here was a man who could look at his adult son and have some very significant regrets regarding how he parented him. He went on to describe how failures that seemed like small things when his son was a teenager have evolved into to very big things in his adulthood. I don't know how else to describe him, besides to say that his face was covered with deep sorrow.
As Thomas and I preached on Sunday, I must confess that there were a lot of grey heads in the sanctuary. In many ways, I felt we were preaching to the wrong crowd. If anything, I hope that the grandfathers in the room felt moved to come alongside their sons and sons-in-law as THEY parent. And to share their regrets as this man did to me.
While Dads cannot control how our kids turn out, we do have some clear directives given to us by God. If we fail to be obedient to those things, then we have failed our kids.
My prayer for me today (and my prayer for every Imperfect and Normal Dad out there) is that we depend upon God's presence to empower us, God's Word to direct us, and God's grace to catch us when we fail.
And there are times when we will fail. May God help us all.