Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 16, 2013
It took me 40 years to learn an important lesson for fathers
In my fortieth year I learned a very important lesson about being a father. By that time my wife had given birth to five sons. Our first son had died at three but his brothers were then 15, 12, 10 and 8.
We were learning how to be a family. The oldest son had quickly taught us that raising teenagers was more of a challenge than we had anticipated. As teenage boys will do, he was testing our authority daily and pushing hard against whatever boundaries we had set.
Our boundaries were mostly reactionary, not well thought out. When the boys got in trouble we responded by establishing a rule. We were writing our book of rules on the run. I learned by trial and error that children need boundaries.
In the meantime my focus was almost entirely on my work. My career as a minister was my primary concern. I worked hard at what I was doing, this the result of the work ethic instilled in me by my hardworking father. He worked from daylight till dark as a farmer. I did the same as a preacher.
At the time I was traveling a lot because I was “in demand.” Many months I was out of town more than half the time. I left the needs of the family up to my wife. Sometimes she would punch me in the stomach with a comment like this: “Tell your father goodbye, children; he is off to save the world again.” And I knew she was thinking “while his family goes to hell.”
My wife would shame me occasionally into taking time off for “time with the family.” But even on a family picnic or a trip to the park my mind was on what mattered most to me – my work. As a result our family outings led not to harmony but disharmony.
As the tension mounted I realized that my wife was not a happy camper. She told me bluntly one day as I was about to catch another plane, “I am sick and tired of being the father and the mother of this family.” I left that day as I left many other days – sick and troubled inside. Things were going badly for us and I knew it.
So it was that in the year I turned forty I found myself alone in a retreat center in Indiana. I had come to a crossroads. My wife was miserable and our family was scrambled eggs. What was worse, I did not have a clue how to fix the problem.
Deeply troubled I prayed hard, desperately seeking guidance from the Lord. And it was the Lord I believe who reminded me of a question a man had asked me a few days before: “If you could do anything you wanted to do, what would you do?” Pondering that question, which shook me to the core, I found the answer to my dilemma.
My heart pounding, I realized that more than anything else in the world I wanted to be a successful father and husband. My career would be like sand in my hands if I lost the love and respect of my boys and my wife. I admitted to myself that my wife was right and I was wrong. There, in those hours alone with God, I made the decision to put my family first, ahead of my career.
I came home, gave up my traveling ministry and asked my bishop to appoint me the pastor of a church. I knew my family problems would not be solved quickly but I knew also that the first step was to become a resident father. Within three months of my decision in Indiana I had done that.
As a father in residence I made many more mistakes as a dad and husband. But I was at home making those mistakes. Slowly we worked together to build not a perfect family but a stronger family. We picked up the pieces of our marriage and the Lord helped us to become truly one. And that bonding is still strong as move toward our 62nd anniversary.
The lesson it took me forty years to learn is this: A man’s family is more important than his career. The family should be a man’s primary concern. If the pursuit of a successful career costs a man his family, his success will be hollow and little comfort to him in his old age. Fortunate is the man who learns this lesson in time to get his priorities in order. + + +