Stop the War on Dads

2012-06-16 11.40.10I just finished reading an article about the virtues of motherhood.  It sang the praises of the selfless women in our world who have
given their lives to the monumental task of raising responsible human beings. And rightfully so.  You can never write too much about or try too hard to say “thanks” to moms.

But somehow I feel like we all tend to fall off the wagon before we get to the part about thanking dads.  In fact, sometimes, I feel like dads are the one group of people in this world that it is still politically correct to demonize.  And frankly, Hollywood is probably nicer to demons.

Seriously—most of the movies, books, and shows—especially those for kids and families–in this generation seem to portray the father either an absentee, a mercenary workaholic, or a just plain terrible person.

It’s like open season on dads.  And the credibility rating of fathers of animated figures doesn’t seem to be much higher than those of human beings.

Take the Berenstain Bears for example.  Mr. Berenstain has about the IQ of Mr. Potato Head.  He is the third problem child that Mrs. Berenstain must patiently train out of all his foolish ways.  See what I mean about political correctness?  If the roles were reversed, every woman’s libber in the country would have set fire to the tree house and sent the fireman in for the wife and kids only.  There would be a grizzly bear coup. 

But no one seems to object to a storyline that paints the father as the deadbeat whose sole goal in life is to see how many hours he can spend on the couch drinking beer and changing channels.  And everyone sympathizes with the doting mother that sits by herself at her son’s T-ball games because her husband is on a business trip.  And the only logical conclusion is that he doesn’t care a flip about his son, or his wife, or their lives, or their feelings, or their futures.  He is all about himself and his world of business.

Stop the madness!

I’m not saying there are no deadbeat dads out there.  I’m sure there are some.  But I know a lot of dads and the percentage that fit the Hollywood stereotypes is incredibly small.  Like smaller than the percentage of law enforcement officers that commit crimes on a regular basis.

The dads I know work hard so that their families can have not only the things they need, but also some of the things they want.  The dads I know like going to their kids’ events (maybe not 2 hour piano recitals, but everything else).  The dads I know make plans for their kids’ futures; take pride in their kids’ accomplishments; ache over their kids’ frustrations; and even cry over their kids’ bad choices.  In short, I think it’s fair to say most dads truly love their kids and it shows.

I’m not writing this because I have the perfect dad (although I do), but because dads – all of them–should be appreciated and respected—whether or not they are perfect.

If the goal of the war on dads is to discourage every dad from even trying, then perhaps Hollywood is doing a good job.  Because I surmise that the percentage of bad dads only goes up as expectations go down and respect disappears completely.  In a sense, the world of bad dads is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as boys who saw the dead beat dads on TV sink to the levels of Mr. Berenstain and  Homer Simpson.

But we don’t have to let it be that way.

Dads get spit up on too.  Dads give up their free time too.  Dads lose significant amounts of their wives’ time and attention when they welcome a new little life into their home.  And most of them do it so graciously and so often that we will forget that they are making any sacrifice at all.

If you know a dad who isn’t all he could be, surprise him by challenging him with words of encouragement.  Respect his position of authority and inspire him to lead.  That’s what he was designed to do.

And if you know a dad who is all he can be, thank him often.  Don’t wait until Father’s Day to give him soap on a rope.  Make sure he knows that you know that he is not Mr. Berenstain.

I’ll start.  Next post.

The “D” Word (Part I)

I was curious, so I “duckduckgo’d” [I don’t use Google] the amount of money that the weight loss industry makes.  The results I found averaged 40,000,000,000 dollars each year.  That’s a lot of money.

As I read some comments surrounding these numbers, one anonymous would-be weight loser said that all weight loss products were either “common sense repackaged as science” or “snake oil repackaged as science.”

Personally, I wouldn’t take it quite that far since there are legitimate tools to help with that endeavor, but I would chalk up most of the weight loss industry as crock.

Take for example, the Cookie Diet.  Who would try such a thing?  People who love cookies of course.  And why was the Atkins diet so popular?  Because it didn’t require you to eat less as long as you were filling up on steak and cheese.  (Too bad it doesn’t really work that way).  And why was the baby food diet such a flash in the pan?  Well, obviously, because no one in their right mind cares a flip about being fit if it means eating mashed peas out of jars for the rest of your life.  Yuk.

The problem with most of the weight loss industry is that it does its best to take discipline out of the equation.  It is all geared toward helping you lose weight effortlessly.  And when people realize that 1) it does take effort; or 2) it requires no effort because there are no results, they bag it.

In the meantime, “they” make money because we hate being disciplined so much that we would rather fork over our hard earned dollars than say no to a brownie or get up and go jogging—even when we know in our heart of hearts that it isn’t going to work.  If there is a way to accomplish our goals with little or no discipline, that’s surely the route we’re going to take.

I picked on dieters, but problems with the “D” word are not limited to our eating habits.  How many budgets have I written?  How many have I stuck with?  The answers are “many” and “none” respectively.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much my budget says I’m going to save if I don’t actually say “no” to myself.

Discipline is difficult.  That’s why we don’t read our Bibles, pray, and memorize Scripture like we should.  That’s why there are such things as credit cards, alcoholics, and porn addicts.  We just don’t know how to say “no” to ourselves.  Or we just don’t do it.

And in this anti-legalism generation, we have become allergic to rules and anything that resembles rules.  And discipline kinda looks like and smells like rules.  So we don’t talk about it anymore.

I found myself asking—is discipline even biblical?  It would sure be convenient if it was not.

But discipline is a very biblical concept—ask Paul.  Or Daniel.  In fact, so much so, that God takes it upon Himself to discipline us when we do not do it ourselves.  Hebrews 12:6-7

With that in mind, how do I discipline myself?  And what are the things that truly matter enough to be worthy of the endeavor?

I duly noted that the most effective means of changing people’s behaviors and habits—across the industries—includes accountability.  We immediately think of the military when we think of discipline.  Why?  Accountability.  All day long.

God did not expect us to do the Christian life alone, so He established the church.  Successful organizations and businesses alike have copied God’s idea and established successful groups for everything from addiction recovery to quilting—because we are more likely to get something done if we are being strengthened by others.

Being accountable to someone means there is someone in your life that will speak the truth to you and you will give their words respect.  It does not mean filling your life with gushy friends who will always tell you what you want to hear.  So there goes the quilting example.

If we hate discipline enough, we will surely hate accountability.  We will come up with excuses like “they just don’t understand” “they expect too much” and “they won’t accept me just the way I am.”  And we move away from home, get divorced, or quit our job.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If you are so fortunate as to have a friend, a spouse, or a parent that speaks the truth to you—regardless of whether or not you wanted to hear it—be oh, so grateful.  And if you don’t, you should seek one out.

The more I’ve pondered this, the more I have realized how closely akin discipline is to meekness.  It is strength under control.  It is giving up my way for a better way.  It is confining the steam in my engine to the straight and narrow tracks of God’s will.  It can be loving, creative, and powerful.  It is just putting off immediate desires for some better end result.

That leads to my second question… What are the things that truly matter enough to be worthy of the endeavor?  Because we really don’t want to be caught in the vortex of living life by the numbers on the scale.

And that will be a thought for another day.

Big Red

When I pulled up to drop something off at the Hock’s house the other
night, Chris asked me, “So, why are you driving that thing?”

“That thing” that he was referring to was a 1994 F150. It had a post hole
digger, a shovel, a dog bowl, and a few feet of rope in the bed. In the cab
with me were a few empty water bottles, a dirty paper plate, a drop cloth,
and a pair of old tennis shoes.

And why was I driving it? Well, because it is a stick shift and I don’t want to
get any older not knowing how to drive a standard.

Up until Thursday evening, my entire experience with a stick shift was a sad attempt at a driving lesson around the neighborhood with my friend Melissa about 4 years ago, a few country roads with my friend Anita about a year ago, and one load of junk from the house to the dumpster with Curtis and Stephen. Poor Big Red.

So I pulled up after having been given due permission to drive Big Red for a week. Climbed in and started it up just fine. Then I surveyed my dilemma. The marks have long since worn off the gear selector and I couldn’t remember how to put it in reverse. To make matters worse, the truck was parked right in front of a pole. I only had about four inches of trial and error. Not a great start to this adventure.

So, I did the logical thing. I called my dad and asked him how to reverse. He tried to give me instructions to drive a truck he’d never seen before while I tried to talk on the phone and try them out at the same time. Like I said, the truck started just fine. I know because I started it about ten times in a row. Yeah, in a row. I couldn’t get the truck to move. Not forward or backward. It just kept dying. I finally hung up the phone so I could focus. But it wasn’t until I finally figured out the parking break that I actually went anywhere.

Well, things went okay as I pulled out of the driveway and onto the country roads, but I had forgotten a very important detail. I was going to have to pull out from a stop sign and make a left into heavy, highway speed traffic. Well, here we go.

Well, here we didn’t go. I tried to go. I tried to go several times. But I kept going backwards. I kept hitting the gas and the truck would roll backward. What in the world? I didn’t have it in reverse. I wasn’t on a hill. The people behind me started to back up. I tried a few more times. By now, I wasn’t scared of getting killed pulling out into traffic, I was scared of Big Red reversing his way all the way home.

The vehicle behind me pulled up next to me. “Not working?” It was two guys from…another country. They were laughing and it was probably a good thing I couldn’t understand much of what they said. They pushed me and Big Red over onto the side of the road. It’s leaking. They informed me. That must be the problem. It’s leaking.

Another guy pulled up in front of me and popped the hood. “That’s your radiator.” He said. “That’s your…” He proceeded to point at all of the different truck guts and tell me their names. Very helpful. Finally he said, it’s not leaking anything. That’s just the air conditioner. Here let me try this. He hopped in and had it working just fine. He threw me a softball, “Sometimes the clutch just needs to be pumped a few times.” Then he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any other problems.  Yeah, right.

So, it was me and Big Red again. Somehow, we made it all the way back to the office. Forward to the office, I mean.  Do you know that Fords kinda jump around? It’s the weirdest thing. I just prayed no one I knew saw me hopping, crawling, dying, and just generally surviving my way into town.

When I pulled into the parking lot and shut the thing off, I couldn’t for the life of me get the keys out of the ignition. Finally, I gave up and just left it. Surely no one would steal Big Red. He wouldn’t even let me drive him and I had permission. Then I had a stroke of genius and I hung one of the old tennis shoes over the keys–so no one would notice.

Big Red and I got along pretty well that night and the next morning as I was on my way to work I started thinking I was starting to get the hang of driving with a stick shift. I pulled up at the final stop sign across from the office and let out a sign of relief. But it wasn’t over. Big Red threw the biggest fit of his life. As I hopped my way into the parking lot–my pastor drove by. Excellent timing. Just smile and wave.

That brings us to Saturday. Saturday I was supposed to go kayaking with a group from church. Jonathan asked if we could take Big Red since it would be easy to hitch up a trailer to him. I said that would be fine as long as he drove it. I didn’t want to put anyone through me driving a stick shift–with a trailer–on unfamiliar roads–with other people following me. That would be a recipe for disaster.

Jonathan had no trouble at all taking the keys out of the ignition when he stopped. So not fair. We were parked at a boat landing generally in the middle of nowhere, so we threw all of our valuables inside and locked the door. That was 9:30 am.

Little did I know, the ignition key that I so carefully put in my pocket before locking up was just that–an ignition key. It was not going to open the truck. Not ever. Not with any amount of convincing. A coat hanger wasn’t going to do anything for us either. When you lock up a 1994 Ford truck, you’re done. That’s it.

It was 4:30 pm before Big Red and I were happily on the way home again. I was tired and he was hungry. But overall, it had been a good day.

Sunday morning, I opted not to take Big Red to church. I was going to meet my cousin and his wife whom I hadn’t seen in years. Just for…good measure…I would take my Chevy Silverado.

That was probably a good decision. When Nathanial saw my wheels he said something like, “a truck? I didn’t figure you to be such a redneck.” Good thing I didn’t bring Big Red. Nathanial would have bought me a pair of overalls and started calling me Bubba.

Well, I’m not discouraged by the fact that I can’t open Big Red, can’t move him, and end up going backwards when I want to go forward. Honestly, that’s not the problem. The problem is that he goes through gas like he owns BP. Big Red has two tanks and we’ve been through both of them. I guess that is his way to get even with me and it might be working. I wish I could tell you how many miles we’ve traveled together, but the odometer is broken. Along with the speedometer. I guess that’s kind of part of what makes him. And now that we’ve mostly worked out our differences, I may just let him return to his comfortable life as a farm truck.

I thought about giving him a good scrubbing before I return him, but after all we had put each other through, he had earned my respect.  And like any good farm truck, he is probably happier with the mud.

Originally posted May 31, 2010.

And Out of the Hand of Saul

From the time we were two, we sang about “only a boy named David” and the giant who “came tumbling down.” A lot of sermons have been preached on David and Goliath and rightfully so.

It’s a pretty cool story…a teenager defeating a nation’s greatest enemy with a slingshot. He faced his giant with the most primitive of weapons, an awesome God, and tremendous courage that let him do what no other man in his nation would do. A lowly shepherd boy became a national celebrity overnight. Clearly, God was working to defeat the Philistines; but it was also good PR for David— to help him gain the respect of a nation that he would one day rule as king.

But while fame can be acquired in a day, character cannot. Not in a day, a month, or a year. Perhaps that is why David’s greatest victory became a thorn in his flesh when a jealous Saul forced him into a life of running and hiding. One thing I did not know until this recent sermon series on David is that the running and hiding act of David’s life lasted approximately ten years. That’s a long time.

The day David faced Goliath may have been one of his fondest memories, but I doubt it was his most difficult. And even if it was, a day is just…well…a day.

I remember when I was seventeen—I was coaching debate teams, teaching piano lessons, and starting law school. I thought I could do anything. And the more likely I was to fail, the more determined I was to succeed. I wanted to be against the odds. I wanted to do what no one else had ever done before or would ever do again. It is a good thing I was not dared to fight Goliath because I would have done it. And considering my sling shot skills, I would have died trying. And I probably would have been glad that I died a remarkable death instead of an ordinary one.

Not to undermine acts of courage, but they can sometimes be accomplished without a whole lot of character. If you don’t believe me, go to Niagara Falls and look at the museum of people who have gone over the falls in a barrel. On purpose.

But ten years in the wilderness, that’s another story. Ten years of running, hiding, waiting. Three things men—especially the type of men that fight Goliaths—hate. Surely David would rather have had one big fight than ten years of running. Just face Saul and duke it out.  At least it would be over with once and for all. I would rather face the meanest, ugliest, biggest, baddest giant that I can fight and be done with it than struggle with a situation that I have no control over and that just drags on and on. Wouldn’t you?

One thing that struck me in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 was the heading. “David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul.”

I found it interesting that David distinguished Saul from his enemies. Most of us would consider someone that chased us for ten years, threw spears at us, tried to kill us in our beds, and forced us to live like an animal in the wilderness for ten years– as an enemy. Shoot, even Goliath didn’t try to kill David in his bed. Yet despite all the dirty tricks, Saul was God’s anointed and the sling shot was off limits. This was a giant David could not kill; David would have to wait for him to kill himself. Not nearly as climactic. And it would take ten long, long years.

But the fact that David did not even label Saul as his enemy—that is remarkable. Despite the frustration of ten years of waiting, being falsely accused and distrusted, David looks back over his life and has the maturity to see Saul as something different than an enemy. Saul was an instrument of God to build character in David that Goliath could never have built.

The wilderness seems to be the Ivy League of God’s training grounds. God turned boys into men in the wilderness. Some got ten years, some got forty. God taught forgiveness, endurance, patience, joy, and humility. God took absolutely everything of value away from some of his most beloved servants and taught them to rely solely on Him (See 1 Samuel 30, especially verse 6).

The times that David bypassed the opportunities to kill Saul, both in the cave and in the camp may have been David’s true greatest moments. The days the giant did not come tumbling down. The days that a giant-killer recognized that discomfort and distain is not necessarily an enemy—and waits patiently for the same God that delivered David from Goliath to deliver him out of the hand of Saul.

2 Samuel 22 / Psalm 18