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My Father Is a Man Worthy of Honor: Lessons Learned by a Daughter
"Honor your father and your mother, that you may live long in the land."
Our culture is barren of honor. We have no idea what it means to honor another person, much less do we seek to honor those who deserve it, and even less do we come close to honoring those who we are commanded by God to honor. The phrase I quoted above is what Jesus called the first commandment with promise. If we obey this command and give honor to our fathers and our mothers, we are promised long life.
I have a confession to make. I am guilty of not honoring my father as I should. I am guilty of criticizing him, of thinking badly of him, of ignoring his true worth. I have laughed at him when I should not have laughed. I have not valued him or respected his judgments. I have trusted my own ideas and rejected his wisdom. I have occasionally compared him to other fathers. I have held bitterness against him, keeping record of wrongs. It wasn't until recently that I even realized that I was doing this. Now to confess this in print sickens me. Who am I to judge my father? What am I that I represent the standard of goodness? Would I make a better father than he? No, no, a thousand times, no! God has blessed me with a mighty, loving, wise father. This man is the one who, in a sense, has created me. I am who I am because of him. I live because he lives, I eat because he works, I think, laugh, love, and repent because he taught me how. He is as undeserving of my censure as anyone could be; he is blameless and I am the guilty one.
The rest of this article is devoted to honoring my father. I want to praise God for this man and to give my father strength through my respect and admiration of him.
When I was only as tall as my Daddy's knees and could barely reach up to grab his belt buckle, he was the hero of my heart. He swung me up onto his shoulders, blew indian noises into my belly button, flew me around the room in his arms. I acted terrified in a giggly sort of way so that he would do it again. Every evening when he came home from work I would run to him for attention, and to see if he had brought home any Cinderella stickers from the post-office for my scrapbook. Cinderella was to be pitied: her father was only in the first sticker of the story, a vague and shadowy silhouette by the fountain, and then he died. A vicious and power-hungry matriarch took his place in Cinderella's life. But my daddy was here, my daddy was here, my daddy was here. He drilled into me the simple doctrines of life, starting with, "Who made you?"
I shouted out, "God!" and prepared for the next question:
"Who taught you to be so smart?"
And he would lean back in his chair and laugh with approval. I wanted nothing more than his approval.
Daddy worked hard for the things he believed in. He also worked hard for us. I remember feeling awed when he came home from work, the warrior bloody from the battle, worn and wizened with the fight for principle, truth, and God's law. I hardly understood then what it was that he worked for, but I was impressed. What he did was the most important thing in the world. I imitated him, pulling out my play phone and a few pieces of paper that I scribbled on as I cradled the receiver in my shoulder and babbled: "Money, money, bla, blah, Johnbirshasitey, money, money. Bye." More scribbles on my important document. More people converted to my daddy's cause.
He is still a hard worker, and I still come into his office as he works and listen to him talk to his clients, learning from what he says, seeking to imitate him. His business is mostly done through sales and service now, but his line of business is insurance, which means he comes into contact with people during some of the most stressful, and crisis-filled moments of their lives. First he asks if anyone is hurt. Then he listens, listens, listens, for hours at a time. When they have sobbed or ranted until they can do no more, he gently gives them principles to stake their lives on. His comforting advice is always applicable, whether his clients are suffering from a chipped windshield or a totaled vehicle. He reminds them to be thankful that they and the members of their family are safe and unharmed. He recites back to them the many blessings they are still in possession of, and reminds them that the things that happen on this earth are only a fraction of importance compared with the weight of eternity. He often reads them a Psalm or a passage from 1 Peter about trials and how they strengthen and test us. I hear a gradual silence and thoughtfulness on the other line. They are listening now, taking it to heart. Occasionally we will come across some of his clients at the local grocery store or park and they will take my dad's hand in theirs and tell me how his sacrificial work for them and wise words have blessed and encouraged them. He is "a treasure," they tell me.
Books, books, books...
Our kitchen table has always been covered by a thin sheen of newspaper articles, clipped or folded and put in front of our places at the table. Articles on economics, on great leaders of history, on new movements or entrepreneurial endeavors, on godly statesmen who took a stand on principle, on authors or books (for me), on new inventions (for my brother), on foreign cultures or language studies (for my sister), on philosophy or theology, and most commonly: on hard money-- gold and silver. He uses these articles to spark discussion, illustrating what he's always told us about how civilizations rise or fall. His avid reading extends to massive volumes that double-stack the bookshelves in his home office and fill up other bookshelves on nearly every wall in our home. He claims he doesn't read enough, but every evening at home or vacation day on the road includes a stack of articles or a briefcase of books. As a result, his knowledge is vast. Nearly any topic, and certainly every current event, has a place in his memory; all we have to do is show the slightest bit of interest and his well-informed memory kicks into verbalization.
One night as a little girl I was being tucked into bed by Daddy. On a whim, I asked him to tell me a story. It was usually my mother who told the stories, as my father had more of a mindset for facts and figures, but he surprised me by beginning: "Once upon a time," he told me, "there was a little girl who had big ideas, and she grew up and wrote a book. She became a great author and many people were influenced by the words she wrote."
I begged him to tell me if the story was about me. He said that I would just have to wait and see.
I used to take my father's love for my mother for granted. Don't Daddies always love Mommies? And isn't it always embarrassing when you accidentally come into the kitchen and see Daddy kissing Mommy? And what do people mean when they say they are "in love?"
As I grew up, I began to understand. Marital love became a beautiful thing, and I saw it day by day in the way my parents treated each other, spoke to each other, and touched each other. It was honor. It was respect. It was affection and a desire to serve. It was a mother and a father "in love" with each other. By my mother's language and attitude, I saw what it meant to joyfully submit, obey, respect, uplift, encourage and serve a husband. By my father's language and attitude, I saw what it meant to cherish, to lead, to protect, to serve, to be the strong tower for a wife. His affection for my mother meant our family was in God's hands.
My Father, My Friend
How can I ever sum up what my father has taught me? Work hard. Work efficiently. Be diligent. Be organized. Write thank-you notes. Save half of your earnings before you spend anything. Read your Bible every day. Make a list of everything you need to do. Obey your mother immediately. Memorize Scripture. Look for ways to serve others. Double-space your rough draft. Hold your silverware correctly, put your napkin on your lap, and keep your elbows off the table. Balance your checkbook as soon as you get your bank statement. Never miss church unless you are unbearably ill. Don't complain, whine, pout, or protest. Stand on Biblical principles and don't be afraid to be called "radical" if that's what it takes to obey God. Eat all of the food on your plate. Look people in the eye when greeting or speaking with them. Set goals, not "resolutions."
More recently my relationship with my father has developed into a deep friendship. I would obey to the death any command of his, and he knows that. He would fight to the death for my well-being, my safety, my purity, my soul, and my heart. And I know that. Rather than giving me commands, he has gradually begun to give me advice. His instruction comes more in the medium of conversation and discussion, rather than verdicts. If it happens that a situation requires a command from him, I will gladly and immediately obey. He is my leader, father, friend. This relationship did not happen in a night, nor in a year. I have had to re-learn to honor and admire my father as I have struggled through doubts, weaknesses, and sins that caused me to forget my father's wisdom. Every girl needs a man in her life; I, sadly, have not always been humble enough to realize that I need my father. My fantasies about my future "man" mirrored the man who was always the hero of my story: my father. I didn't realize until recently that God has already placed a man worthy of honor and adoration into my life. I didn't realize that Cinderella still has a father, that he never left, and that her father would make sure the boot would fit Prince Charming's foot.
The other day Daddy took me out to lunch. My heart jumps up into my throat when I think of it: it meant so much to me. It meant he wanted to spend time with me, that he cared about what was going on in my mind and heart, that he valued me and cherished me, that he wanted to know me. We sampled wine, shared each other's food, laughed over the waitress's idiosyncrasies, then got deep into conversation. By nature, I'm usually the one asking questions or listening during any given conversation. I must've learned it from Daddy, because he asked me questions and directed the conversation so I'd have to talk about myself. When I had said all I could, he supported me with encouragement about trusting God's timing (in his words: "God created us, so He must know how to direct our steps and make things happen"). As we got out of the car, I told Daddy that this time together would keep me going for a long time. I hope someday he knows how much it meant to me.
Words of Wisdom
My father loves the book of Proverbs. He also loves to make people laugh. Put that together and you get a piece of witty wisdom tailored exactly for a particular member of the family. "Throwing snowballs stirs up anger, but a soft answer turns away wrath." "They will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me, but they will not find me. For I am in the bathroom, taking my time." "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and all the pancakes are eaten up before you come down for breakfast." "Who can find a wife like Mommela? For her price is far above rubies." "A scoundrel and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet, and cracks his knuckles..."
Without fail, every mention of silver or false balances produces a lesson on money. He explains the difference between "God's money" and the "false balance" paper money which is continually losing value and is not backed up by silver and gold. It has become a family joke now because we have been taught about it so many times, but anyone outside of the family who has a question about currency and real value gets a great introduction to the topic and usually ends up with a silver coin in his pocket, a token to remember what money of real value feels like. We love to re-tell the story of our dad asking the cashier of McDonald's if she accepts Federal Reserve Notes. She hums and haws, lifts an eyebrow or two, then goes back to ask the manager. The manager comes out to the counter, my dad repeats his question, then finally pulls a Federal Reserve Note out of his wallet and points to the inscription on the dollar bill. "Oh, that?" they ask. "Sure, we take those."
He is your father, he is worthy of honor...
My father is not perfect, and he'd be the first to remind you if you mentioned it. At times I've resented him for what I've thought are his imperfections, holding a particular weakness over his head as if he was undeserving of my love because of it. Truth be told, love is not something that effortlessly streams out when there is someone lovely nearby; love is something we must choose to do, and love sometimes requires showing honor and respect to someone whose honor and respectability may be hard to see. However, the more you act like you love, disciplining your attitudes and thoughts to be loving, the more naturally that the attitude of love comes! I had no idea my father was such an amazing, wise, and impressive man until I made up my mind that I was going to obey the commandment and start honoring my father. By the very words I chose to use and the actions and expressions I let escape, I sought to build up my father in both my estimation and, I hope, in his own.
There is nothing more demeaning for a man than to be disrespected and looked down upon by the people he works hard to serve and protect. Sons and daughters, listen to me. Your father is motivated by his success as a father. If you praise and honor him for the good things he's done (no matter how small) without criticizing him for things he hasn't done (no matter how big) he will be motivated. He will work harder to be a better father. This isn't manipulation or flattery. This is doing what God has commanded you to do. Your father is a man worthy of honor by the mere definition of his role. He is your father, he is worthy of honor. You are his child, you must honor him. By your honor, you will see just how honorable, trustworthy, and capable he is. I regret that it has taken me so long to apply these principles, and I pray that my failing to honor him has not discouraged him or made his role as my father difficult.
I'm still learning. I'm still trying to figure out what can better honor my Daddy, and still examining my heart when it begins to mumble and murmur. I am listening for other people's praise of him, and delighting when others give him a complement or thank him. I watch my mother's words and actions, seeing the honor and admiration she shows him. Someday I will have a new role in a new man's life, and I will wear the glass slippers my father has trained me to wear.
© 2009 Jane Grey