When I was eight years old I came home from school to see my dad’s truck at the house. The bed of his 56 Ford pickup was full of boxes, and none of them contained anything of mine.
My dad was leaving.
And he wasn’t taking me with him.
Those two statements shaped the course of my life from that moment forward. Everything I have done since that time, in one way or another, goes back to that afternoon. My roles as husband, father, pastor, teacher and even boss are shaped, for better and worse, by my dad’s decision to leave his family behind and go forward to greener pastures.
To my dad’s credit, he never told me what his beef with my mom was. And it didn’t matter to me then, and it doesn’t matter to me now. When all is said and done, my dad left my house, and he left me. For years my life was full of anger and pain. The ones who got left behind, my mom and my brothers and I, were left to fend for ourselves and deal with the aftermath. Trust me when I tell you that an eight year old boy should not become the man of his house because his dad wasn’t man enough to be in it for the long haul.
If I sound bitter, I certainly was. Time and God’s forgiveness have changed my bitterness to resolve. I turned my pain into desire. What kind of desire?
First of all, I determined that I would never cheat on my wife. As a pastor, you never think that you will be tempted to cheat, but you are. If the devil can make a pastor fall, he wins. The lives of so many people are destroyed every time a pastor falls. Fortunately, I learned early in my ministry to run fast and run far when temptation came my way. There was no reason to “stand tall” and persevere. There are times when cowardice is the better part of valor!
Secondly, I determined that no matter how much trouble my wife and I had, I would never leave her or my kids. And trust me, in 32 years of marriage, there were times when that resolve was sorely tested! After ten years of being married to me, Lanette told me she wasn’t sure she loved me anymore. I could have left, but then I wouldn’t have been any better than my dad. I stayed and fought for my marriage and my kids. I have never, ever, regretted that decision. Had I left, I would have died inside every day.
Third, I decided that I would do my best to make sure what happened to me never happened to anyone else. I believe God allows us to go through trials and, well, poop, so that when we come through it we have a faith that impacts others. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.” (The Message)
In my life I have had all kinds of different roles. I have been a husband, a father, a grandpa, a coach, a teacher, a pastor, and a member of law enforcement. In each one of those roles I have seen the difference a dad makes, and unfortunately also seen the difference that a lack of a dad makes. If you are a dad, be a man. That means doing it God’s way by sticking around and loving your kids. It’s the toughest, most rewarding job in the world!
Hoping I was a good dad… Jerry