One of the side effects that may have come from not having a father around was the lack of confidence that I, myself, would make a good father. Jeannie and I had been married for three years when she started talking about having children. I was terrified. I could not imagine my emotional and intellectual maturity (or lack thereof) accommodating having children for whom I would be responsible.
I was a twenty-four-year-old youth pastor at the time and my job required me to take a group of boys and girls, ages 9-12, to a week of children’s church camp. The messages and the teachings the camp staff presented to those kids were intense…maybe too intense for children of that age. In those days, before we all learned proper age-appropriate techniques for ministering to children, the children had to sit through the same fire and brimstone messages that the adults had been exposed to for most of their lives. Invitation time was high pressure, as well, and when it was necessary, the prospect of spending an eternity in hell was invoked to insure a good altar response. One of my jobs was to counsel some of these children who responded to the invitation and to attempt to sort out all that they had heard and felt. One evening, the little boy assigned to me looked like he was 6 or 7; his two front teeth were missing which made him talk with a slight lisp.
“Why did you come forward tonight?” I asked him.
“I’m afraid my momma’s going to hell,” he replied. My heart sank.
I asked him, “Why do you think your mom is going to hell?”
He said, “Because she listens to country music on the radio.”
The speaker had thumped the “ills of secular music” drum and had linked up rock and roll music, along with country and western, with the devil himself. After hearing that message in such an intense setting, it was no wonder that this little toothless boy was worried about his mom.
I asked him, “Son, is your mom a Christian?”
“Yes sir, she loves the Lord.”
“Does she take you to church?” I asked.
“Yes sir, every Sunday.”
Then I told him with unwavering conviction and genuine heartfelt love for the young boy, “Son, your mom is not going to hell. If she loves the Lord and takes you to church, she’s not going to hell for listening to the radio.”
His countenance changed and in all his toothless glory, he smiled a smile that sent me into an emotional tailspin.
I said a brief, yet sincere prayer for him and sent him back to the rest of his friends. Then I took a walk. I walked far enough as to where I would neither be heard nor seen. By this time, the tears were flowing like a faucet and everything within my being was crying out to God. I stood at the top of a hill, gazing into the vastness of the star filled night sky. My heart was heavy and I discovered the true desire of my heart. Through the tears, I made a request of the Heavenly Father.
“Lord, give me a son,” I said. “Give me a son that I can love to you,” was my plea.
When I returned home, I shared my experience with Jeannie. She informed me that while I was gone, she prayed that God would speak to my heart about having children. He couldn’t have spoken any louder. One year later our first son, Jonathan, came into the world. Three years later, He blessed us again with a second son, Aaron. The Father had answered my prayer.
There are no words in the English vocabulary to adequately describe the miracle of witnessing your own child’s arrival into this world and the two birthdays of my sons are days I can recall with vivid clarity.
As blessed as I am to be a husband, I am even more blessed to be the father of two wonderful young men. In rearing them, I have made many mistakes and they have seen the imperfections and shortcomings in their father in glowing vibrant color. But they have always known that I love them unconditionally and that I am immensely proud of both of them.
The birth of our two sons in 1986 and 1990 propelled me into a new realm of existence and paternal responsibility. The challenge to be a good father, myself, only heightened the desire to know more about my own father. As my own sons would grow to an age where they asked questions about grandpas and grandmas, I would come to discover that I had many unanswered questions of my own.