By Bob Hiller –
Since the Cantankerous Critic started off his blog with a warning about his content being too heady this week, I suppose I should warn you that this piece is a bit sentimental. This week, in honor of Father’s Day (and in keeping with Cindy’s delightful article this week), I want to say a few words about fatherhood. As I view the cultural landscape, I am troubled by how readily we thumb our noses at dear old dad. We have gone from an overly idealized “Father Knows Best” to soft-in-the-middle, bumbling Ray Barone in the matter of a generation. Through cultural icons such as Papa of the Bernstein Bears, the feminization of America has demoted dad to nothing more than that sports-watching, beer-drinking, lazy waste of space that lives in front of the TV and requires mom’s mothering to survive. But, fathers are gifts from the Lord. In fact, no one has a greater impact on how we view the world, family, church, and especially God, than those men who hold the place of “father” in our lives. We need to fight against the trends that belittle fatherhood and encourage fathers to be strong, kind, and wise leaders in their homes; men who fight for their brides and provide for their children; men who take responsibility for their families and are not afraid of offending those who get in their way. We need more men like my dad. (Speaking of the Cantankerous Critic, he is working on a book to this end. I want to read it. So, if you haven’t already, go like our Facebook page so we can get a free chapter. End plug.)
The two greatest compliments my dad ever paid me were that he thought I was a great preacher and that my little league coaches ruined my swing: “Before they adjusted your stance, you hit the ball great.” You don’t have to play catch with your sons to be a good dad. But you did in my house. My dad loved baseball. He still does…though he is a Rockies fan, so his love takes the form of loathing most days. My dad taught my brother and me how to catch and throw and hit (though, I won’t blame him for that). There was no false distinction between quality time and quantity time with my dad as he filled my childhood with sports in the yard. When I take my kids out front with the tee and the bat, I can actually hear my dad’s voice coming out of my mouth while I adjust their hands and correct their stance. I am in awe of how patient he was with me because I quickly get frustrated with the kids not listening to my instructions. But, there his patience just gives me something to strive towards.
Since going to seminary, I’ve learned that balancing home and church is hard for many pastors. I didn’t learn that from my dad. He was home for nearly every dinner, even when he had meetings. He made virtually all our games; when he couldn’t, it was because of an emergency. My dad knew the difference between spending time with his bride and Christ’s bride. From where I sat, I never saw the latter create jealousy in heart of the former. He was home for his family, and we knew we were his priority.
Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t a lazy pastor. He loves the church. He made sure we did too. It wasn’t until two years ago that I realized my Sunday morning routine is almost identical to my dad’s. He used to wake me up early on Sundays so I could tag along as he prepared for the service. I watched as he opened the doors, turned on the lights, and made sure the sanctuary was in order for God’s Word to invade the lives God’s people. After telling me to leave the sanctuary so he could run through his sermon, I would peek through the window to spy on his routine. Now when I preach, especially when proclaiming the gospel, I can actually hear my father’s voice come out of my mouth.
I’m Lutheran because my dad taught me to listen to the scriptures alone. The poor man was burdened with a family who loved to argue theology. (We still do, in fact. He suffers sermon critiques every time my brother, who will soon have a doctorate in theology from University of Chicago, and pain-in-the-rear me come home for Christmas.) One of my favorite memories is sitting down for Sunday lunch and my mom saying, “What right do we have to ‘give God glory?’ We can’t give him anything! Why do we say it?” My dad coolly replied, “It’s in the Bible. We didn’t make it up. We don’t correct the Bible.”
Or, when I went through a theologically “rebellious” phase in college, I called home to tell my parents that I was leaving the Lutheran church and joining the Reformed Baptists. After all, they got baptism right. I came out to my mom first. She listened patiently, as she always does. She told me she’d tell dad to call me when he got home. Then she called dad immediately, as she always does. He called me within five minutes. Not being a phone guy, this was no small move. “So, your mom says you aren’t Lutheran anymore.” “Yeah, I just don’t think it is what the Bible teaches, especially on baptism.” I made my case. I’ll never forget his words: “Well…open your Bible.” So now I’m a Lutheran pastor; not because my dad is one, but because my dad taught me to read the Bible.
Fathers, more than anyone, shape how we view God. My dad gave me a gracious picture of God. I remember sitting in fear in my basement after I had failed my first confirmation test. My mom was furious. It was the only time she ever said, “You’re the pastor’s son! Wait till he gets home!” I had embarrassed my dad with my laziness. I felt ashamed. He got home and stood on the stairs and said, “What happened?” “I failed my test.” “You think you should study harder next time?” “Yes.” “OK. You want to watch the game?” “Uhhh…yes!” That, you want to watch the game, was as good as an absolution in my home. He never brought it up again. I learned what grace was. And, for you who think that too much grace produces laziness, such grace prompted me to love the study of God’s Word as I was freed from the fear of letting my dad down.
My dad was far from perfect. He has his faults. I know them well as I see them in my own life from time to time. But, he was there. He loves his family. He trained up his boys in the way they should go. He gave us a nostalgic love for baseball and an appetite for good theology. Most importantly, he gave us Christ. I know we all want to go to heaven and have all our questions answered. But, I sometimes find myself hoping that it isn’t true. A heaven where I grab a beer with my dad, my brother, and my kids and argue theology around an Angel’s game wouldn’t be so bad.
Thanks for bearing with my indulgent blog today. But, it is worth reminding you that we need more men who are good fathers. We need more men like my dad.