Picture this scene.
A bored adolescent boy, half-listening to his teacher drone on about some uninteresting grammar lesson, tears his notebook paper idly into little pieces, amassing a small pile on his desk. Watching the clock tick away the seconds, he grows in his conviction that the day will never end.
As the teacher diagrams yet another sentence on the blackboard, the boy’s synapses start firing—not because he develops a sudden interest in the lesson, but because he has noticed the flattop of the boy sitting directly in front of him. What a perfect spot on which to place the little pieces of paper! Surreptitiously, when the teacher isn’t looking, he begins placing the scraps on the head of his classmate, making inward bets as to how many he can fit before being discovered.
So engrossed is he in the task at hand that he fails to notice that his miscreant acts have already caught his formidable teacher’s attention.
“Harold! What are you doing?!” The young man in front of Harold whips around to see just what Harold had been up to that so riled the teacher. And, as the boy turns, tiny pieces of paper flutter and litter the floor around them.
This is the tale with which that now-grown boy used to regale me when I was a girl. The best part though? The blue eyes twinkled with delight as he joyfully exulted in the rest of the story—the teacher made Flattop Boy pick up the pieces as well!
My Dad is a superb storyteller. He has the timing, the words, the descriptions, the punchlines all down to a T. When he was expansive, car rides with dad surpassed the stuff of fairytales. And the laughter! I well remember begging him, “Just one more! Please? Dad?!” before bedtime or 50 miles from a destination. Made-up stories of the bungling burglars Fromm and Snerd and the intrepid siblings Jody and Judy provided wild entertainment for my siblings and me on many of our never-ending road trips.
These stories went beyond the purpose of entertainment. Some that held my rapt attention edified, taught, or gently remonstrated. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in a church pew one Sunday as my pastor-father retold the events of an ancient day on Mount Carmel and some flummoxed followers of Baal. The story leapt off the pages of Scripture and unfolded before my eyes, and I laughed as I saw with my mind’s eye Elijah mocking the fools.
Fathers sometimes get a bad rap. They have a whole genre of groaner-jokes named after them! They are kings of the thermostat, purveyors of the wallets, boyfriend guards, and deliverers of corporal punishment. They are sometimes the shadowy lurkers of our childhood memories—not as understanding as mom and far more stern. They have become the butt of jokes and the numbskull in marketing schemes.
But our Father in Heaven seems to think highly of them and has placed much on their shoulders, so maybe we should give them some more respect in our consideration.
As God retells the story of His people’s deliverance from the Egyptian stronghold (a tale told for a purpose), He reminds the fathers of the nation of Israel: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul . . . You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
It’s as if the Truth should be imprinted on our very selves, and it should so consume us that our dealings with our children are constantly interwoven with the heavenly wisdom found in those pages. The lesson taught is clear: the more we adhere to eternal values, the greater peace, joy and meaning is to be found. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that with love of the “jots and tittles” comes great rewards.
A stark juxtaposition to that occurs when we survey the smoking, littered landscape of America today in the current moment. The streets of her cities cry out, bricks lay alongside broken glass, we see mobs of angry people congregate with their fists raised at one another, police officers are spat upon, looters congratulated, and a rogue group of misfits lays claim to a large section of a western city. We wonder at the causes, and we wonder at the future.
The Greatest Generation is an easy one to laud. Sent to war at a young age, their slim shoulders were weighted with the hope of the world. We applaud their purpose, their fortitude, their action in the face of great fear. They came home with scars both visible and invisible and built the nation with astounding dexterity. But we never stop to wonder: Who were those boys’ fathers? Who raised the strong to be brave and selfless?
That generation of men had seen another war sweep the world before it. And then they endured a Depression so great that it remained the shaper of their private constitutions. These were the men who looked at their infant sons and daughters and thought, “I will raise you to endure.”
If there is hope to be found, then, a significant portion of that hope must lie with America’s fathers. Fathers like those who taught their sons and daughters to endure.
It is these sorts of fathers that we need again today. The world needs you to look at your young sons and daughters and to determine, “I will raise you to be moral, to be strong, to be loving, and to be fearless.” Aside from the hope that awaits us beyond the grave, this is where hope is to be found. Turn back to the church. Search the pages of Scripture for wisdom. Be so consumed by what you find there that you have no choice but to teach it to your children, as you rise and as you walk by the wayside. Make it your earthly purpose to raise the next generation.
Maybe, like my father, you can even charm your children occasionally as you impart the lessons history tells us will grow strong spines and clean hearts.