The Father You Never Outgrow
Larnelle Harris is a Hall of Fame vocalist who has earned five GRAMMY awards, 11 Dove Awards and been named Male Vocalist of the Year three times by his peers. He is one of a handful of celebrities to receive the prestigious Ad Council’s Silver Bell Award for Distinguished Public Service. Harris is the only person in history to be a member of three distinct Hall of Fame organizations: Gospel Music Hall of Fame, Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Amateur Radio Hall of Fame. Harris and his wife Mitzy have been married for over 40 years and have two children and three grandchildren.
Maybe it was my first real understanding of what my role as a father would become. Oh, I know what Wikipedia says. They say a father is defined as a “male parent or individual progenitor of human offspring. ‘To father’ means to procreate or to sire a child. The adjective paternal refers to a father and comparatively to maternal for a mother. Fathers determine the gender of their child through a sperm cell which either contains an X chromosome (female) or Y chromosome (male).” Sounds pretty simple and uncomplicated, doesn’t it? But fatherhood requires much more attention and effort than Wikipedia’s definition.
It was a warm summer day when my son, with his little sister in tow, strolled into the garage with a few of the other neighborhood kids, hauling a tree stump in their red wagon. The stump was large enough to turn the wagon over, but somehow, they managed to wrangle it to the garage. “What are you going to do with that tree trunk?” I asked. The answer was swift and decisive. “We’re going to make a sling shot,” said my son, Lonnie. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I should have taken that opportunity to give them a lesson in the science and engineering involved in making sling shots, including the safety hazards of owning such an instrument. I probably should have warned them of the effort and time that would be involved in such a venture. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I did and said next would be a pattern that would define my role as their father from that moment on. You know what I did? I gave them the tools to do the job.
We men love tools. We have tools to fix things that our wives will never let us try to repair. But no one hands us an operator’s manual when our kids are born and so we don’t always know which tool to use at which time. We don’t know how hard the “hammer” of discipline should be or how much we should turn the “wrench” to help change a child’s attitude. But my wife Mitzy and I knew the one tool we would always need was next to our bedside, on a living room bookshelf, and anywhere else we could place it – a Bible. It kept us focused on the end goal for our children and we purposefully wrestled with the text over the course of our lives, not just to become good parents, but ultimately, to become better people ourselves.
I recall another moment that caused me to pause as a father. Lonnie and I enjoyed putting together and flying remote-control planes. One day, we were having a father-son discussion that became a bit heated and resulted in him saying to me, “You are trying to control me just like we control those planes!” His words stopped me in my tracks. I realized I couldn’t control my children nor did I want to. But what I needed to do was give them boundaries to live within and then help them make good choices by living out the words I spoke. Kids learn by what you do, not what you say. One thing Mitzy and I knew for certain: there would come a time when our children would have to make decisions about who or what they would allow in their lives. And there would be instances when the choices could be heavy enough to turn them every which way but loose. But we always tried to be there for them, ready to hand them the tools for life that have meant the most to us.
Looking back now on these two young people who have now grown into adults, it seems that Mitzy and I have been offering them tools all their lives. We didn’t have then, or now, all the answers for navigating through this world. But being older, and hopefully, a bit wiser, we have learned that whenever you need to get something accomplished in your life, there is probably a tool to help make it happen. Today, my kids are raising their own children. And I sometimes have to chuckle to see them set boundaries that are way more strict than we ever were. Now that they are seeing through the eyes of parents, they have each expressed to Mitzy and I the appreciation they now have for the sacrifices we made and yes, even the many times when we said the dreaded word “No.” By guiding them with actions beyond our words, giving appropriate discipline when needed, offering guidance instead of control, and always, always loving them, our goal as parents was very clear – to bring them to that place where they would find for themselves a relationship with Father God. He is the Father they will never outgrow.
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