A few nights ago, I came across a documentary on Netflix called “Tricky Dick, and the Man in Black”. I have been a fan of Johnny Cash for some time, and I grew up in the era of Richard Nixon, and Johnny Cash. I was very intrigued by the subject so I decided to watch it. It was fascinating, enlightening, informative, heartbreaking and bought back a ton of memories.
As I watched the documentary, suddenly I was being brought into things about Johnny Cash that I did not realize before, even though I had read a book about his life. What I learned about Johnny brought me to tears and reinforced something I have known for years. For good or bad, a father leaves a permanent mark on his son’s psyche, personality, and emotional life.
Let me explain. Johnny’s best friend in his youth was his slightly older brother. His brother was determined to become a pastor and a preacher. Johnny and his brother were inseparable. Growing up dirt poor, they would often work to help the family survive. He and his brother took a little work at a sawmill, near their home. Johnny’s brother was sawing a large log when the saw grabbed the log and it ended up pulling his brother into the saw and killed him. The scene was as awful and sickening as you can imagine in your mind’s eye, right now. Johnny ran to his brother’s side, held him close, blood was everywhere and was sobbing and screaming, “Somebody do something”. It was too late and his beloved brother died there in his arms.
Johnny was devastated, his father and mother were devastated. However, his father became a very bitter, resentful man. In fact, almost immediately after this horrific event happened, Johnny’s dad looked straight at him, and said, “You weren’t the right son to have lived, you should have died!” This type of thing happened many times. Johnny grew up feeling unworthy to be himself.
Can you imagine this? Can you even imagine, losing your brother, your best friend in such a gruesome, horrible way, holding him in your arms and your father tells you basically you should have died, and your brother should have lived?!?!
Many years later after Johnny had achieved much fame as a singer-songwriter, he became a Christian. He was fairly outspoken for the times and young people really looked up to him. Billy Graham called him, and said, “Johnny, I have a rebellious teenage son, can Ruth and I come over to visit you and June and have supper together?” They came over, had a wonderful visit, and Billy told Johnny that God really wanted to use him, that young people were greatly attracted to his authenticity. Later that evening, when Billy and Ruth left, Johnny called his father. He said, “Daddy, guess who we just had for dinner? Billy Graham and his wife. What do you think of me now daddy?” To which his father said, “You ain’t sh–t boy, that ain’t nothing!”
Men, can you even grasp the hurt, the wounds, the pain, the deep anguish of heart that Johnny’s father’s words caused to him? Men, hear me, and hear me good!! Your children live for your encouragement and praise. They long for the most important man in their life to encourage them, affirm them, and show them with their words that they really matter to their father.
One of my greatest prayers, and pursuits as a father was – “Lord, make me a great encourager to my kids and to others. Lord, give me the words, the attentiveness, the awareness, to affirm, comfort, encourage, and put heart into my children. O God, deliver me from taking the heart out of my child!!” Men, we can be so obtuse, so harsh, so insensitive, so unaware, so pathetically dim-witted. Our encouragement and our praise and affirmation is the oxygen of the soul and spirit that our kids need to thrive.
I have known so many fathers through the years that are so hard to please. You never know where you stand with them. They seldom have an encouraging word. They seldom say a kind thing, or an affirming thing, or commend their child for the things they are doing right.
Dad’s have a unique and destructive ability to take the heart right out of their child. In fact, God commands us, “Fathers, do not exasperate your child, lest they lose heart and give up trying!!” Men, I have prayed over my mouth more than any other thing in my life. I realize the power of life and death is in the tongue. Our words can help our children thrive, and soar, or our words can hurt, cut, wound, leave deep scars and drive them from us.
I would like to share with you a passage in the Bible that has been my pursuit for 43 years. It is found, of all places, in Job 29:23-24 (NLT):
“They longed for me to speak as they longed for rain. They waited eagerly, for my words were as refreshing as the spring rain. When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them.”
O fathers, take this passage to heart. Your children have insecurities, your children have fears, your children have anxieties. Your words, your tender understanding, your affirming words of reassurance or praise, or commendations, are like spring rain to a dry and weary land. Do you not see or understand that your children long to hear these things from you? At times they are starving of a soul to hear these things from you. Your children get discouraged and feel like failures at times. Your smile, your look and words of approval are so, so precious to them. They will treasure them all their lives.
I can’t tell you how many times I told each of my kids that I was so proud of them, I was so grateful God let me be their dad. I felt like the luckiest man in the world to get the privilege to be their father.
I can’t count how many times I told them, looking right in their eyes, “I love you, Jeromy. I love you, Celeste. I love you, Micah. I love you, Jessica.” I wrote them notes of encouragement, I praised them, I affirmed them, I used my words constantly to build them up, put heart in them, and give them genuine confidence in life, and the things they were endeavoring to do. To this day, I still email notes of encouragement, praise, affirmation, and love to my kids, who are 38, 37, 34, 29, with families of their own. In fact, my kids have written to be telling me, “Dad, you were such a great encouragement to me growing up.”
Fathers, start today. Take initiative, speak words of encouragement, comfort, affirmation, and use your mouth, use your words to build your child’s heart and spirit. I have never met a person in the world who was too encouraged. Life can just rip the heart out of you.
I close with an illustration of how obtuse men/fathers can be: I recently have been immersed in the most difficult, gut-wrenching ordeal of my whole life. Several months ago, still reeling from the pain and anguish of this ordeal, a Christian man/father/leader, wrote to ask me a question. It was a sincere question. I took an hour of time to pour out my heart on digital paper, explaining in the greatest of detail what I had been going through and why I felt what I did, and why I would be making the decision I was. I sent the email.
A day later, I got a 3 sentence reply. I was stunned. I mean I had poured out my heart. I had carefully explained the anguish of my soul and why I felt that way I did. There was no great encouragement back, no empathy, no expressing back encouragement or words to minister to my broken heart. I share all this, not so you feel sorry for me, but I share it to make you aware, that men, dads, we have to do so much better at encouragement. Our kids and our wives desperately need our words of encouragement.
REMEMBER, IMITATE GOD, HE IS THE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL ENCOURAGEMENT!