Harry Chapin, Trace Adkins, Tony Dungy, & Solomon: An Open Note to Dads

We assume a great deal of titles in this life.  Consider that, in my own life, I’ve been called “son…student…center fielder…bagger…squad leader…specialist…executive director…administrator…chairman…vice president…friend…brother…and husband.”  I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  But the most important and, truly the only one worthy of capitalization in my opinion, is the best title ever:  “Dad.”

I think of occupational titles as validation, in some form, of something we have done in the past.  We typically gain new and fancier titles when we have proven our value to the organization in our prior role.  

Perhaps becoming a Dad is more of a nomination to step up to a grand future command performance – rather than a validation of one’s past.  It’s God’s invitation to excel as a man.

J. Mark Fox wrote of each man’s family role as being in the context of “Four P’s” – the Prophet, Priest, Protector, and Provider.  A Prophet who hears God’s word and subsequently shares and teaches it to others (his children).  A Priest who goes before his people (family) on behalf of God and goes before God on behalf of his family as their leader.  A Protector to guard against false doctrine, bad companions, and bad choices.  And a Provider to feed physical and emotional needs, while preparing and providing for their future.

Future?  Yes.  Legacy.

During a recent discussion, my bride observed that “we choose our own legacy.”  So true.

I may not agree entirely with all that Fox writes, but I do agree that the “Four P’s” are fundamentally applicable and evident of our true responsibilities in our capacity as “Dad.”

All too often, though, Dads become easily confused.  In an effort to be a good Provider, perhaps it’s fairly simple to self-impose a mischaracterized identity established on an occupational axis, rather than regarding the priority of the other three “P’s” and our obligation to be at our best as “Dad.”  It’s not easy, yet who said anything worthy is easy?

Yet, I’ve known men of great occupational success who have missed the point.  In fact, it’s evident to me that even the most scholarly can sometimes fail miserably in life’s most important exam. 

I’ve also known men who have passed with flying colors – in both arenas.  A successful logistics executive who missed not one softball game, show choir concert, or academic honors ceremony.  And there was a man named Fred – honestly, I don’t recall a single clue as to what he did for money, but I can tell you he left behind three kids who themselves became great human beings – great parents themselves who are focused and engaged.

Notice that Law didn’t call out any obligation to be a “Pleaser.”  Sometimes it’s just not about personal happiness, but more about redirecting “I want…” to a clearly and directly articulated “Yes, but you need and, therefore, you will…”  We should be so cautious as to recognize that sometimes betting on happiness today is a bet against tomorrow.  After all, being “spoiled” refers to something that has occurred in the past – not now.

Two great songs about fatherhood are “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin and “Just Fishin'” by Trace Adkins.  Consider their opposing stories:

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

I’m lost in her there holdin’ that pink rod and reel
She’s doin’ almost everything but sittin’ still
Talkin’ ’bout her ballet shoes and training wheels
And her kittens
And she thinks we’re just fishin’

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

I say, “Daddy loves you, baby” one more time
She says, “I know. I think I got a bite.”
And all this laughin’, cryin, smilin’ dyin’ here inside’s
What I call, livin’

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And she thinks we’re just fishin’ on the riverside
Throwin’ back what we could fry
Drownin’ worms and killin’ time
Nothin’ too ambitious
She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout
What’s really goin’ on right now
But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in
And she thinks we’re just fishin’

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

She’s already pretty, like her mama is
Gonna drive the boys all crazy
Give her daddy fits
And I better do this every chance I get
‘Cause time is tickin’
(Yeah it is)

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

And she thinks we’re just fishin’ on the riverside
Throwin’ back what we could fry
Drownin’ worms and killin’ time
Nothin’ too ambitious
She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout
What’s really goin’ on right now
But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in
And she thinks we’re just fishin’

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout
What’s really goin’ on right now
But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in
And she thinks we’re just fishin’
Yeah, aww, she thinks we’re just fishin’
We ain’t only fishin’
(This ain’t about fishin’)

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

(this ain’t about fishin’…)

I’ve long believed that parents earn their place in the future of their children.  Dads, how will you be regarded and remembered?  What will be your dash?

So, Dads…step UP.  If you’re interested in improving the world around us, start at home:

Raise accountable, Christian kids who know you and know Him. 

Pray for them and with them.  Get up and take them to Sunday School. 

Teach right versus wrong and bend not to whatever the heck those people down the street are doing. 

Teach them to exert their best effort and to make good choices.  And if the world judges their best effort to be “average” – well, that’s absolutely fine.  “Average” wrapped in strength of character and perched upon a solid foundation of Christian values and beliefs will endure whatever storm comes ’round.  Let the wind blow.

Make your home a place where hate-filled video games and other meaningless dribble simply aren’t welcome – it’s far less likely that anyone will rage against society after watching Smile of a Child. 

Ensure that your occupational execution is squarely focused on your role as Provider to those who call you “Dad” – you are here to feed them, not your own ego – and don’t apologize for stepping away from the office to attend something at school or some other opportunity to be there and be Dad.

It’s not easy.  I find that it takes a heckuva lot of work and focus – and sometimes I simply fail.  But consciousness begets improvement and so, Brothers, let’s hold each other accountable.  It takes, I think, a bit of a Nike perspective – “Just Do It.”

“We have a number of difficulties facing our nation, but I believe fatherlessness is right at the top of the list…There is no substitute for a full-time Dad.  Dads who are fully engaged with their kids overwhelmingly tend to produce children who believe in themselves and live full lives.” 
  – Tony Dungy – coach, super bowl champion, future nfl hall of fame inductee, & DAD

In Proverbs 22:6, Solomon wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Hug ’em often…and Keep It Lit…

T.

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6 Responses to Harry Chapin, Trace Adkins, Tony Dungy, & Solomon: An Open Note to Dads

  1. qdchoice says:

    This is ironic. All of the accomplishment, title and accolades that my father as earned throughout his life, the one that he treasures most is being a father. The ironic this is that his name is Fred too. For years my brother and I never really knew what my father did. We knew he was in the army but we never knew that he was a Colonel or really what Colonel was. We knew he had a large office, a large staff and people who seemed to be intimidated by him. My brother and I never understood it. At church (he was superintendent of Sunday School for 10 year and a deacon for over 20 years) everyone respected his opinion. Again my brother an I never understood it because to us he was just Dad. A man who was kind, intelligent, gentle and loving.

    Coming from a one room school house in Laneville, TX to being the highest ranking African American officer at Ft. Lee, VA was something that he was very proud of but what made him happy was being our father. He has always been loving and not afraid or ashamed to tell us that he loved us. Growing up we thought that was normal. We thought every family had a Dad like that. We never thought it was anything special.

    Get grew up and realized that, in fact, he was very special. He set the standards of how we should treat people and to always give back. He taught us how to be strong, intelligent, caring men. He taught us the value of hard work and the importance of family and community and a have a solid relationship with God.

    I have to say that we turned out okay. We just hope that we make him proud.

    I have witnessed my brother assume the title of husband and Dad and he too is most proud of being called Dad.

    Fathers have a delicate balancing act and great responsibility. So much depends on their every word and every action that has the potential of changing lives forever.

  2. docedward says:

    Right on the money, TJ. I knew a man with such good taste in trucks HAD to have a good sense of the world in general. In many ways, my own father was always the “back up”. The steal fence that kept us all safe. He was the one who steered us but never was in the way, never center stage. We did not worry because Dad had it covered…and he did. We went to church because he went. No questions asked. Ever. He always said, “You kids behave because I expect you will. I don’t have to force or coerce you. I know you will, and you do.” And you know what… he was right.

    When I was in high school one of my friends caught his father cheating on his mother with his mothers best friend. My friend was so lost. He talked to my dad and my dad said, “Son, your father messed up. That’s between the Lord and him. Your job is to make sure that sin stays with your father an is never, and I mean NEVER passed down. Your old enough to know right and wrong. The sadness and anger you feel inside, that is sin. Son, you run from sin from now until you die.” I will never forget that. And my friend did not either.

    He grew up the youngest of two kids with an alcoholic traveling salesman for a father (one of AA’s first success a few years before he died) and an artist for a mother. Raised in his mothers boarding house he had many surrogate fathers come and go throughout his life. A doctor staying with him taught him to read. A professor staying at the house instilled in him the discipline to study. (Home schooled for the first few years of elementary school back in the 40’s).

    When his older sister was killed in a drunk driving accident at the age of 17, he grew to have one passion in life: Family. He only knew the Holy Family and modeled his life on that. He walked away from the sins of his father, never ONCE did he curse or talk despairingly about that man. He worked his way through high school picking apples. Earned his way through college doing the same and waiting tables at the WoodBind in SouthBridge MA. He joined the Air Force during Vietnam, married my mother and had 5 wonderful, faith-filled kids.

    I will never fill those shoes, but I don’t have to. I know he’s in heaven, walking along with JC, carrying me to this very day. When he died, he left behind a saintly wife, 5 married children, 22 grandkids, enough money to cover mom’s expenses and a mess of tears at his departing. He is why I trust my Heavenly Father implicitly. I may grumble and have a few choice words with Him but I know He loves me because i had a glimmer of it from my father on earth. If I leave anything to my children, may it be a glimmer of my Father’s love for them.

    E

  3. Very well written and touching. I’ve been doing a lot or reflection on being a father since watching the movie ‘Courageous’ at a Men’s group at our church. Your message here is very similar to the message in that movie and I truly appreciate you writing and my brother for referring me to this site. The ‘Fred’ in your message is my father and although his time with us has passed he’s with me every day.

    • tedrick71 says:

      Thank you, Darren. I didn’t know Fred personally, but I’ve been privileged to know some of his legacy first-hand and it’s all top-shelf. Courageous is a great movie – every Dad should see it. Peace to you and yours. Keep it Lit. / TJ

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