Yesterday’s message was one of moderating and not moderating.
For example, I originally had a bottom line that contrasted “diapers” and “Disney.” But over the last week, Disney became known for the alligator who snatched the two year old boy, and so it just didn’t feel right. I moderated it to a contrast of “routines” and “roller coasters.”
Also, the early part of the sermon included a quote from newspaper columnist Kelli Goff. Yet when it came to delivery, I felt the quote needed more context than I could give it in a sermon. In spoken form, it might have been too painful. However, I am including it in this written form. I moderated.
Speaking of roller coasters, early on in the message I quoted one of my best friends in all the world & how he said that his father, sadly, treated fatherhood “as if it was all about money and roller coasters.” My friend had also seen an advance copy of the sermon.
He sent me a text on Saturday night: “I’m dreading hearing the sermon because some of the content will be hard for me to re-live, but I am so praying that people hear it and head it. Preach it!”
I was alarmed by the word “dread” and so I texted back: “Do I need to moderate it?”
His reply: “Hell no.”
With that encouragement, the message as a whole was not moderated.
Here it is: How To Prevent Daddy Issues.
I want to tell you, right here at the beginning, what it is I want to prevent today. The crisis I want to start preventing so we can stop managing. Ready? OK: I want to prevent another generation of girls who look to recapture what they never got from dad by getting it from guy after guy after guy. And I want to prevent another generation of guys who have no clue how to treat women well because they never saw a man do it up close and in person. That’s it. That’s all. That’s what I want to prevent & how I want to wrap up Preventology.
And some of you are like, “Oh, Talbot! So heavy! Where’s the joke? Where’s the tennis story? Where’s the picture of you as the world’s dorkiest 12 year old?” Or at least you’re thinking, “Can’t we take it a little easy on Father’s Day? I barely got my dad to come in the first place and now you’re going all heavy & serious on us from the very beginning?” Well, none of that to start. Instead, this tall order and these high stakes of preventing so much of the acting out that comes in particular when dad drops out.
Because I’ve never wanted to begin a message by shaking a collective group of people like I do today. And the ones who I want to grab by the shoulders and give a good shake into awareness are 21st Century Fathers. Now: I know Father’s Day is a day to celebrate many of the dads among us and also to grieve many of those who have departed from us – and we’ll do some of that in a little bit – but it is also a day to tell the truth. A day to call to action. And the truth is that almost every problem in the USA and in individual lives in this room circles back around to fathers who a) never married the mom of their child(ren); b) didn’t STAY married to her; or 3) though the family STAYED intact, dad was distant and unengaged. Virtually every one. That absence – physical, emotional, or both – creates a gaping wound that the next generation lives with.
So you know what we’ve done? We’ve seen the rise of celebrity single parenting. Listen to this chilling piece by Kelli Goff:
Single Mom Celebrities
A new study at McGill U in Montreal indicates that the absence of a father in a child’s life can have a negative impact on brain development. The research was the first to link father absenteeism with social attributes and to correlate these with physical changes in the brain.
Despite all this data, single parenting has emerged into a social and cultural norm in recent years, so much so that anyone who dares to cite the studies is accused of stigmatizing single parents & their children.
First of all, stating facts is not stigmatizing. Furthermore, poor decision making should be stigmatized. Smokers are stigmatized because not smoking is a healthier choice. So is the choice to create & raise children with two parents as opposed to one.
And this now crosses racial, economic, and religious lines, with churches like Good Shepherd very much effected. I guess you could say that I am desperately wanting to prevent the fallout, the acting out, that comes when dads drop out. And so it’s directed to dads today.
And so many dads – either never married or divorced or detached – know this. Intuitively. They GET this. And you know what do once they realize some missing out is going on; some damage is happening? At least subconsciously? They begin to compensate. Like one of my best friends put it this way about his dad: my own father treated Fatherhood like it was about money and rollercoasters. Seriously. That’s what he did when we saw him one time a year…bought us things and took us places. Looking back, he abdicated his role for his benefit at our expense. And we still pay for it.
Whoa. Money & rollercoasters. Bought us things & took us places.
Some of you lived through this.
Some of you put your kids through this.
Some of you are living through this right now.
The bling. The trips. As if the bells and the whistles would somehow drown out the sounds of absence. Moms are not immune, but dads seem especially vulnerable to the thinking that a bunch of EXPERIENCE will compensate for a lack of RELATIONSHIP. And you know what the ultimate symbol of compensation is? The Disney trip! You give the custodial parent the week off, you assume center stage, and it is lights, camera, action. And so many of you on both sides of that ledger – both the compensators and the compensated – have come to the sad awareness that you can never really make up for what you miss out on.
And in contrast to that strategy where dads compensate by dazzling, Deuteronomy 6:4-8 comes along and sounds so boring. No snap, no crack, no pop:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
And there it is. The kind of parenting – fathering in particular – that not only builds healthy kids but kids who (GULP!) find it easier to have what we would call a living relationship with Jesus Christ. A better connection with their Father in heaven in large part because of what went on with their father on earth. And look our boring it all is: talking, sitting, walking, lying down, getting up, reminding. That’s it. Where are the trips? Where are the presents? What about the bling? What about the travelling sports teams? What about Chuck E Cheese if you get a good report card? No sizzle at all! No Disney anywhere to be found. Just the boring routine of every day living.
And then I realize: Ah! Those random, unplanned, routine encounters between parents and children? They’re like this: Hold Watermelon Seed. It’s one day gonna be THIS! (Watermelon, big) Every small interaction is pregnant with purpose and rich in meaning! It is in those massively small encounters of daily living that fatherhood really happens. The supernaturally routine. The divinely mundane. Deut 6 is so boring it’s brilliant! And then it hit me, Good Shepherd. Fathers, fathers-to-be, and fathers-on-the-mend: Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters. The bliss, not the bling. The mundane not the spectacular. The massively small, not the spectacularly fake. More interacting & less entertaining. REFRAIN
It kind of takes me back about 26 years when our daughter Taylor was just born and we lived in Kentucky. And did you know newborns wake up in the middle of the night? And for some odd reason, I thought it was a great privilege to be the one to get up at 2 a.m. and feed her. And hold her. And get to caress her cheek. Or a few years later & the schedule worked out that I was the one to take 3 year old Riley to preschool. And we’d listen to Big Tent Revival (THE Xn band of the early 90s!) and just go. Nothing momentous happened either during that feeding or driving. And they don’t remember it. BUT THEY DO. Subconsciously, they DO. I was just a kid myself, didn’t know the power of the subconscious, but now I see the sort of massively small stuff, the kind of supernaturally routine stuff that was going on. Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters.
Or it’s like when I asked a couple of moms affiliated with our preschool what they think is involved in a good dad & you know how they answered? “You know what’s sexy?” they said EVEN THOUGH THAT WAS NOT WAS NOT WAS NOT WHAT I ASKED! “It’s sexy when the dad is the one who brings the pre-schooler in the morning. Even if the child doesn’t match, just to know that dad got them ready, that means something.” Never thought of it that way before! Guys – wanna look good for your lady friend? Then get the toddler to pre-school in the morning! Chicka chicka bow wow! Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters.
You know how to flesh that out, dads? Pay more attention to your marriage than to your kids. Now: fatherhood IS about that realization that God loads massively small gestures with supernatural meaning, that spontaneous conversation is always better than planned encounters . . . yet woven through all that is this: the marriage relationship is more important than the parenting one. In fact, the key to a good parenting relationship is that it occurs within the context of a prevailing marital one. Gosh, even if you are parents before marriage (it happens! Not God’s design, I’m convinced, but we treat those situations with grace & truth, not with law & judgment), giving that little one a sense of stability and love is job one. And if you’re in that situation, we almost always opt for helping you bring your relationship into covenant agreement with God through marriage.
I know in our case, from a very young age our children took great security in realizing that with all my quirks, there IS NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD who could deal with me other than Julie. So they knew early on: he’s so weird, so odd, that affairs & adultery sort off the table at the beginning! And when they heard each of us speak only what was positive and what gave life ABOUT THE OTHER, again, it built all kinds of security and stability. We didn’t plan a trip to Carowinds or McDonald’s to discuss . . . it flowed from everyday life. Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters.
And as important as all this is on Father’s Day for fathers & sons, let me remind you what you probably already know. There’s something about daughters. If she does not get love, affirmation, healthy physical touch from you, she will start a fruitless search for it elsewhere. It’s not intentional. It’s buried deep into the subconscious. And people come to me or a more conventional therapist and in the course of personal work realize: I’m bouncing from relationship to relationship because of what I didn’t get from dad. That’s so what I want to prevent today. I want to prevent that scar tissue that develops before young women ultimately find a healthy guy or, better yet, a living relationship with Jesus. Or both. Dads: hold her. Affirm her. Rescue her. Don’t abandon her. Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters.
Now . . . I know I’m talking to a lot of guys are a bit older and who in some sense have already blown it. I’m also talking to kids of all ages who are already having to endure that. To the dads: you can’t make it up. All you can do is start over. Don’t compensate with bling. Start over seeking to be a blessing. Not with spectacle. Don’t repeat the “rollercoasters and money” cycle I shared with you early. As you start over, it’s just you. Living into the divinely mundane, the supernaturally routine, the massively small steps that restore and recapture those most vital of relationships.
And if you’re the wounded one, and your dad re-enters to try to restore, will you allow it? As long as your physical and even sexual self is safe, will you allow it? Not with a blindly naïve “it’s OK, that’s in the past” but with a spiritually mature “that happened, I’m still coping, but restoration is always better than lifelong alienation.” Will you even allow him to try?
And back to Deuteronomy. Did you notice something? When dads get it right, what is the result? Not self-esteem. Instead, self-awareness. The kind of self-awareness that allows great God-confidence. That when a dad (and moms too) realize and live out REFRAIN, what will result is children who become adults who know and trust and believe in the God who has already spoken approval and life over them. It’s kind of funny … we have a young woman in our church who is a top-notch, high-impact volunteer with our kids’ ministry. A living relationship with Jesus Christ that is so contagious, the kids in her group can’t help but catch. And the great thing is, I know where that kind of faith started.
Because I’ve known her since she was 11 months old. In the way her life & mine have intersected, she grew up in the Monroe church. And I saw dad in those early years invested and involved in the lives of his girls not with the Disney but in the diapers. Not the spectacle but the mundane. Not making up but leaning in. He just sort of got this . . . I think because his dad had done the same with him. As his daughter became a young adult, she moved this way, got connected here, and loves Jesus well. And having a rare glimpse of lifelong context, I know exactly where it came from.
Fatherhood happens in the routine and not on the rollercoasters.
So dads today: I just want you embracing REFRAIN so that the boys & girls you’re raising today will be the hell-busting, Gospel-sharing, life-giving leaders of tomorrow.