A Quiet Man With Quiet Solutions

Community Education Health and Wholeness Personal Development Relationships What Your Father Should Have Taught You

After my father died, a lady from the church came up to me and said that she would always remember seeing my father sitting up on the balcony of the church with his arms around the shoulders of his children as we all sat together in a row. My sons remember sitting on Grandpa’s lap as they watched old Disney movies and getting TikTacs in church.

My father regularly quoted Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

He would mention it when we had chores to do when he was talking about right or wrong, or when he was dealing with me not wanting to go to church because it was boring. However, my earliest memories of church are of sitting with my father. If I got bored and fidgety he would quietly play with me. He made a “fist” only it wasn’t tight. It had a gap, like a well, and I would try to stick my finger in and pull it out before the fist closed. He would also hold a piece of hard candy and I would try and take it from him before his fist closed. We would play that way until I started giggling and people would look then he would give me the candy, certs, gun, or Tik Tac, and I would put it in my mouth (which tended to keep me quiet as I sucked its sweet goodness.) I didn’t listen to the sermons much but I liked singing the songs and listening to the music. My Mom was always there but she was down in front as the choir director and not sitting with us. Church was a time to spend with my father and then we would go out to eat.

We would either eat, repetitively, at one of several restaurants (I especially liked to go to Lums where I could get a chili dog where they had been cooked in beer). That seemed like a kind of subversive act to me as a little kid – having a hot dog cooked in beer. Or we would go to the house of my Great Aunt Gracie (who seemed to speak English with German word order,) and we would have a feast at least once a month. She made every Sunday like a holiday meal. There was meat, poultry, or ham, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, fresh cooked bread or rolls, and dessert. It was wonderful and one of my fondest memories.

I remember going to Kings (the Saturday after seeing Doctor Doolittle,) for our post-church meal and declaring I was a vegetarian. But my favorite lunch at King’s was their cheeseburger. Obviously, I couldn’t have the cheeseburger. So I picked chili. My dad said there was meat in chili. My mom made several suggestions. She liked the cheese Frenchie. I suggested breakfast with eggs and bacon. However, I realized that everything that I wanted was meat. So, I was a vegetarian for less than ten minutes. As so often happens with children, I picked up an idea from watching a movie or TV, thought it sounded good, but never thought through all the ramifications I would face if I did it. My folks helped me to think about the long term at a time when I was incapable of it.

My father rarely yelled. He was a quiet man who spoke with authority. I, on the other hand, was a US Army Drill Sergeant. When my oldest son thought of joining the army, he said he wasn’t sure he could always take them yelling at him. I told him, don’t worry son, you grew up with a Drill Sergeant for a father. It will just be like being home. I talked with him last night (he’s now in his late thirties and a hero of the Iraq War – at least judging by his medals,) and he said you were right. “They would start yelling and I would think, I’ve been through all this before. No biggy. I’ve been yelled at by the best.”

I must say it’s a hard habit to break. Before he deployed I visited him in his Cavalry unit at Fort Hood and we were standing outside when “Retreat” sounded. During the bugle call for “retreat,” everyone is to turn toward the post headquarters and stand and salute as the flag is withdrawn at the end of the day and taken down. I asked which direction HQ was and we stood there. In my site, a hundred yards or more away a young soldier was just sitting on the step as the bugle sounded. Without thinking I yelled the command “On your feet!” and he jumped up and saluted. Afterward, my son said, “Dad, your not a Drill Sergeant anymore.” – “Sorry son, I didn’t even think. I just saw a soldier not rendering proper respect to the flag and acted – didn’t mean to embarrass you but it’s who I am.”

He has had his wild days but he grew into a fine young man with good values.

One thing that all good parents teach us when we are children is that there are consequences to our actions and decisions and that life is not always fair. But we have to go on anyway. The best we can do is to pay attention to human history (not dates and names so much as the human stories of what happened and why,) because then we could see how others made mistakes or rash decisions and how that turned out…or didn’t. Father also said to watch him and his mother and how we interacted with people so that I could learn to be a respectable adult. If I learned from others (through history, the Bible stories,) by watching others make mistakes I could avoid making the same mistakes and make a whole set of my own. Of course, the idea was that I would make fewer mistakes and have fewer crises if I learned from others how to avoid them. For the most part that worked.

As I grew I was more rebellious. I didn’t see why I had to go to church. I was a teenager, after all. My father put his foot down. “As long as you live in my house you live under my rules. When you get your own house you can make your own rules and do it as you please.” When I was in college and had my own place I was extremely poor and I remembered Sunday dinners where I got plenty to eat. “Sure, we would love to see you. We can meet at church and then you can go out for lunch with us.” – “I could just meet you at lunch.” I suggested. “Sure, but for us church and lunch go together. You are welcome to meet us just for lunch and we can “go Dutch” and each pay our own ticket. Or you can come to church and we’ll be happy to take you to lunch. Our treat.”….I went to church.

Later, as a Pastor, I was talking with an older couple who always were very sad. One of their sons had murdered his girlfriend and was in prison for life. They had a lot of guilt. I told them that my folks had pretty much the same attitudes as they raised all four of us, kids. But one of my brothers was constantly in trouble. He was raised like the rest of us and he was no dummy. But he made bad decisions and chose poorly in his life – the drugs and alcohol made all those decisions and choices even worse. I said it was not my parent’s fault. He had both older and younger siblings (I was the youngest), but he insisted on going his own way, which usually turned out badly. I told them they have other children that turned out well. If their parenting was at fault, then all of their children would have had trouble. We all have choices to make and we have to live out the consequences of our own choices.

All you can do is bring up a child in the way they should go. The Bible, I said, says that if you bring up a child in the way they should go when they are old they will not depart from it. I said that, unfortunately, in my experience, when people are in their teens and twenties they try to “do their own thing” and it is only when they are older they begin to realize the wisdom of what their parent’s said. So, although they may not depart when they are older, in the middle sometimes they wander into trouble. Hopefully, it is nothing that they will pay for the rest of their life.

The Bible calls these in-between years a time when youth “sow their wild oats.” Wild oats kind of grow wherever they want to and not in nice straight rows. By this, it means that youth tend to leave the “straight and narrow” and try out different things to see how they fit. Hopefully, they will return to what they were taught when they are older. There are stories all through the Bible of this happening. Jesus even told the story of the Prodigal Son who demanded his inheritance, lost it all partying and drinking with his friends, and then found himself sleeping in a hog pen because he had nothing. He realized that his father’s servants had more to eat than he did and he went home ready to beg his father to let him work for him on the farm that would have been his inheritance. The father welcomed him back as his son and proclaimed that his son (who had been gone – as if he had been dead – because he never wrote home,) was alive again and he celebrated by inviting all of the neighbors and killing and cooking a calf for a feast. The story of the Prodigal Son goes on to say that the son’s brother (the “good” brother,) was angry and left the party. His father went after him and asked him what was wrong. He said, “Why do you do this? My brother had his inheritance and he wasted it all drinking and partying. But now you have a feast for him. I have been by your side all these years and you never gave me anything to feast with my friends. But now you party and celebrate this wastrel returning.” – “My son,” the father said. “You have ever been with me. All I have is yours. You could have had a fatted calf any time you wanted it and I wouldn’t have denied you. But your brother was dead to us and now he has come home. Come and celebrate the rebirth of your brother and maybe he will have learned his lesson of life and things will go better for us all.” [This is a paraphrase and retelling in my own words, but the story’s gist is there.]

Now, I say the “wisdom” of my parents because my parents and uncles were from the World War II generation. They were “no nonsense” and knew what life was about. We have a couple of generations that were raised by parents who didn’t use common sense. Instead, they tried to follow the advice of “experts.” I remember people reading about child rearing by “Dr. Spock” who was a child-rearing “guru” of the seventies that was popular. “You know,” I said, “he doesn’t actually have any children.” His theories, and many like him, were used by parents to tell children they were “special” and they could do anything. But failed to tell them there are consequences, work, and delayed gratification in all of these things. They also failed to teach concepts such as honor, duty, and honesty. All of which were out of fad by the “experts.”

Many of the parents of my generation were more concerned with being “friends” with their kids or “having a good relationship” and “not wanting to brainwash them” so “they could find their own way.” In other words, instead of “bring[ing] up a child in the way they should go” they let the schools and society do it for them. Often it has not gone well and their children have such different values that, in some cases, they cannot even talk with them anymore. I heard last week that a culture and society is lost in three generations. If the parent’s don’t teach their values to their children the culture and society is lost in three generations. You have the values of the grandparents, the parents, and the children. If you have not passed on your values through them by the time your grand-children grow they no longer have the values of your society. Have we lost three yet?

I remember a sign on the wall of the cavalry unit I belonged to at Fort Knox. It is defined as “Expert – An X is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure.” Experts ruined generations of parents who in turn ruined many children who never learned the reality of life because they were raised by parents immersed in the theory of “experts.” That didn’t work well with the Pandemic and it hasn’t worked well for child-rearing.

The Bible was written thousands of years ago. Those who haven’t read it seem to think it has make-believe icons of virtue in it. But it is full of stories of betrayal, treachery, foolishness, and wisdom, and the consequences involved. It still holds for us today because it observed human nature and we, as humans, evolve very slowly. We are not fundamentally different from the people who lived thousands of years ago – although studies reveal that we are not as smart as they were. You see, in the real world, dumb people tend to die off and don’t reproduce. In great Empires, they tend to build “compassionate” programs (read these as “paternalistic” programs,) that reward stupidity and protect people from the consequences of their actions. We hear this in the news all the time. “They were too big to fail!”

However, if you never have to face your consequences (like the prodigal son envying the slop the hogs had – because he was so hungry), then you tend to never learn the lessons that go with them.

Today, I live in an old house in a poorer part of town. Most of my neighbors are great. But one family is always yelling, always failing at work, always struggling, and we watch as they have weekly visits from the local police for something or other. I used to pay him to do my lawn and, one time, when he was in trouble and had to pay a fine he asked for three months of pay for the yardwork all at once. He made vast promises of caring for the yard and trimming bushes. I went ahead and helped him out paying for three months all at once to see what would happen. He mowed part of the yard one time in those three months and I had to repeatedly ask to get that. Such people cannot be trusted at their word. They live hand to mouth and have never learned to look ahead or to keep their word. He got 150$ and didn’t do any work but that wouldn’t even pay for the new mower he bought to do it. He will never be employed by me again, so he lost hundreds of dollars in yard work and snow shoveling that he could have made if he had been true to his word. But he lost all of that by not being true. Perhaps if he read his Bible he would have known the proverbs about keeping his word and read the stories about the trouble that befalls those who have a bad reputation. Or maybe if his parents just held him accountable for his words.

We are not that different from the Romans or the Greeks. Indeed, the founding fathers of America heavily quoted the Romans and Ben Franklin rewrote Roman aphorisms in modern language and published them. These gave Ben Franklin his reputation for wisdom. He was wise. But it was because he had learned the wisdom of those who had gone thousands of years before in Rome and from the Proverbs in the Bible. He knew his history and he understood the consequences of his actions.

Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

It’s never too late to start again.

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