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Papa

June 15, 2019

Fourteen years or so ago, I heard “Papa” addressed to me for the first time by a little guy who couldn’t even walk yet.  Ginger hair.  Winsome smile.  Strong will.  He had my heart before that, but he melted it when he called me by that name.

Now, he’s a strappin’ teenager who works along side his dad, farming, and can hit a golf ball almost as far as me.  (I may only have another year or two to be able to beat him in stroke play…)  He loves God, loves farming, loves his moma and dad and sister, and really loves his Nana.  And he still calls me Papa.  I love it.

I’ve had this same melted-heart experience with all three of my other grandkids.  Every time they call me Papa, I love it like the first time I heard it.

Before I was a Papa, I was a dad.  Duah…  Our three daughters are all grown with their own independent lives and families now.  They give me a terminal case of dad-pride.  I only half-jokingly say, “It’s such a blessing that they were raised by their mom, and that I married that far over my head.”  A friend of mine says I “out-kicked my coverage.”  Indeed, I did.  And our three daughters prove this.  They’re my heroes.  They’re rock stars in their respective worlds.

I didn’t know what I was doing as a dad for the first 15 years of our family life.  I made it up every day as I went along.  And often poorly.  I’ve already confessed to you that I was absent far too often, trying to be the surrogate dad for every kid in the county, trying to build a reputation as a world-class youth minister and meet everybody’s expectations, while Debbie was left to be both mom and dad for our girls.  I carry remorse and regret for this, but my girls have given me a get-out-of-jail card for it, and have forgiven me.  I’m very grateful for this.  And glad they turned out so much like their mom.

When I closed out a 17-year youth ministry career and started working in family ministry, I realized I had to make some changes.  The two most significant changes were 1) be a much-improved husband, and 2) be a much-improved dad.  If I was going to have the audacity to tell other men how to do this, I’d better get these things in better shape in my own life.  So I did.  I went to work on these two things with my full intention.  I read dozens and dozens of books.  I went to seminars and workshops.  I went to enough Promise Keepers events that I could almost have been given a perfect attendance pin.  I carefully watched men who seemed to know what they were doing in these two areas and took notes (sometimes literally).  I decided that learning to be a great husband and dad was my full-time job and everything else in my ministry life would be an outflow of that.

At that point in time, I didn’t know much about God’s grace.  I just knew that I wanted to be a better husband and dad, and that I was willing to make the payments on this, as best I could.  God honored this.  He gave me so much more than I could ever have deserved.  In retrospect, the most important lesson I have drawn from those years in my life is simply it’s all about grace.  You’ve got to partner with God and go to work, because there’s work involved, and lots of it.  But the outcomes are the result of His grace before your effort.

I’ve known other guys who seemed to be as serious about being good dads and husbands as I was, whose marriages didn’t flourish, and whose kids crashed and burned.  I’ve known of guys who’ve written good books about this stuff, whose own personal lives, marriages and families didn’t turn out happily-ever-after.  Sometimes they were a bloody mess.  Sometimes people who work all the right formulas don’t get the outcomes they had hoped for.  I’m not throwing stones here.  Just making an observation.  I can’t (and won’t) judge these people.  I know better than to do that.  But for God’s amazing grace, I’d be among them.

On this Father’s Day Eve, I want to throw out two challenges.  First a challenge to dads.  Suck it up, buttercup.  Get with it.  Lay your pride and your comfort aside and do the WORK of being a dad.  Do things for your wife and kids that take you out of your LazyBoy and out of your comfort zone.  Give up some of your stuff (literally and figuratively) so there will be more of you present with your wife and kids.  Admit to yourself that it’s not all about you being happy, and then act like that’s true.  Step back from all the things you do for them and yourself long enough to ask yourself this strong question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?  If you don’t like what you get as an answer, quit whining about it and start working on it in partnership with God.  If this seems harsh, get over it.  Life’s hard.  And if you want to be a great dad, you’ve got to be deadly intentional and make some serious sacrifices.  That’s it.  Mike drop.

And then a challenge for wives and kids.  Be your husband’s/dad’s biggest cheerleader.  Focus on the positives you see in him.  Celebrate him.  If there’s still time, go get him a Father’s Day gift he would like, not the one you want to give him.  Get him pro-quality golf balls or fishing equipment, or power tools, not socks and cargo shorts from the sale table.  Remind him you’re glad you married him, Mom.  Remind him you’re glad God made him your dad, kids.  Remind him of this by saying it out loud in his presence, to his face.  He might not know exactly what to do with it when you do it, but believe me, hearing it matters to him.  More than you can imagine.

From → Marriage, Parenting

3 Comments
  1. Dana Leong permalink

    Dear Steve, That was a really good message for Father’s Day!  Congrats on being one! Dana Leong

  2. Jenny Fay permalink

    Wow! I’m really glad Good made you my dad!!!

  3. As someone who loitered around your house in high school, I can attest that your witness is still with me as I raise my family.

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