After All

My dad peered at me over his reading glasses.

It was the look of intent wisdom and I was at an age where I was paying more attention.

“Nobody knows what a boy is worth, and the world must wait and see,

For every man in an honored place is a boy that used to be.”

 The first time my father quoted that anonymous poem, I thought about it. In two simple lines, it composed a life. I conjured the image of a man of dignity and respect – perhaps a leader. I thought of businessmen, politicians and ministers. I thought of great and noble historic figures.

I thought of my heroes.

Then I pictured them as small boys – playing, studying, reading, and dreaming. No one knew then their destiny. I pondered their young lives influenced in hundreds of ways, many undetected. I wondered what Washington and Lincoln were like – as boys.

What events and people shaped their lives?

As a lover of history and biography, I relished and forever remembered my dad’s simple yet profound quotation. It’s true. Only God himself knows who and what will influence a young impressionable life. You and I can never forget the men and women who helped to make us what and who we are today. Their faces and voices are indelibly etched in our memories.

We remember their words – their warnings, advice, encouragement and exhortations. More than that, we remember their lives – their kindness, goodness, generosity and integrity.

We recall their example.

They influenced us.

They made “footprints on the sands of time.”

Nobody has a greater opportunity to shape another life than a father does.

The good news is that a dad’s influence is extraordinary.

The bad news is that a dad’s influence is extraordinary.

One of the greatest tragedies in Black America in the 21st century is the high and escalating number of young men without fathers. It is the root of so much heartbreaking instability and moral wantonness. Most men in prison still love their mothers. Many hate their fathers.

And so it is that the sins of those fathers are now visited upon their sons.

When he addressed graduates at Duke University in 1987, veteran television journalist Ted Koppel reminded them that “truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a howling reproach.”

Koppel said it was fundamental to the civilized world to discern between right and wrong. And to those who would embrace the idea of moral permissiveness, he declared:

“No. The answer is no. Not because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward, but no because it’s wrong.”

This liberal Jew then told the young graduates:

“What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions; they are Commandments. Are, not were. The sheer beauty of the Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time … man erases one frontier after another; and yet we, and our behavior, and the Commandments which govern that behavior, remain the same.”

It was an eloquent speech – relevant, powerful and eternally true. No Baptist preacher has ever said it better. Today, Koppel’s moral exhortation of a quarter century ago rings out with greater clarity and urgency.

In God’s economy, this timeless message has always fallen principally to fathers – to live and to convey. They have been divinely appointed the spiritual leaders of their families. It is a duty we dads assume from the day our first child is born until the moment God calls us home. Our children, even those in rebellion at the time, look to us for leadership, wisdom and example.

We dare not fail them.

Of God’s moral instructions, Moses told the people of Israel:

“Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 11: 19, NLT).

Live a life of faithfulness; a life of consistency; a life that takes seriously the claims of God. There is no surer bulwark against the coming tide of moral anarchy. There is no better way to help your children.

Our sons and our daughters need to know that no matter what may be in or out, ultimate truth is the unchanging command of an unchanging God.

These are eternal matters of utmost importance.

“Teach them to you children”

No one does that better than a father. Nobody has a higher calling or a more solemn responsibility to transmit, by word and by deed, the values and virtues of a holy and sovereign God.

“I will lead a life of integrity in my own home” (Psalm 101:2, NLT).

David was far from perfect, but this was still his resolution.

The home and our own family – that’s where the greatest test of integrity comes. That’s where the greatest need – and best opportunity – is.

After all:

“Nobody knows what a boy is worth, and the world must wait and see,

For every man in an honored place is a boy that used to be.”

May God bless you and your family.

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