Growing up I didn’t have much of a dad. I remember him as a stern, violent, and detached man who eventually disappeared into the “ecstasy” of the 60’s… literally. He was well-educated and a classically trained musician from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, and married another brilliant musician from the same University (my mom).
My dad was given the gift of having loving and hard-working Jewish immigrant parents who spoke multiple languages from Eastern Europe, my favorite being Yiddish. I’ll never forget their accents, gestures and of course, the corn beef and pastrami on bagel.
Given so much, yet, in the height of the free love of the 60’s he did what was then unthinkable and abandoned his wife and three children. He disappeared. Years later I found out he was in California living the “life of freedom.” Although I was sad and embarrassed about his life and choices, most of the time it seemed better without him.
After years passed, something dramatic happened in my life, which ultimately changed everything… I met God my true Father, and His son, Jesus. My life was changed. Three years later, while a student at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, I read the last two verses of the Jewish Tanakh (the Old Testament):
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6
I knew this was a word from God for me, and after nearly 9 years of never seeing my dad, I scraped together the funds to fly out, meet with him and forgive him. We were reconciled through hours of talking, and embraced one another on the San Francisco Bay the night before I returned home.
Too many years had passed to emotionally embrace him as my dad after just one weekend, but he quickly became a long-distance friend. Two or three years after our reconnection, he visited me in Chapel Hill, deeply inquired about my faith, and while together, he dropped to his knees, confessed his sins (that took at least an hour), wept, begged God for forgiveness, and was supernaturally filled with the Holy Spirit. Later that night I baptized my own father in my bathtub. It was so surreal yet real.
After that unforgettable weekend, my dad was year-after-year transformed into a new man, who over time became a great person, husband and dad. He moved to my city, Durham, NC, where he could join my church and allow me the awkward privilege of mentoring and “discipling” him. He married the amazing Genie Mayfield who was the only unmarried woman in her 30’s in our very young and small Campus congregation.
Although they had a few tough years, they ended up loving each other very much. They were inseparable. My father read the Bible, pursued the Lord and got a second Masters degree, this time in Counseling, which he did to help others not live a wasted life like he had done the first half of his life.
Along the way he lead many people to Christ and helped countless stubborn and sinful men out of their folly and into the truth.
In the end, my dad became great as the Kingdom of God measures greatness. He prayed for his family daily, told me he loved me and cared for the poor. He sat directly behind me in church for 20+ years and would often put his hand on my back just before I would go up to preach on Sundays at King’s Park, quoting a Scripture, “You are my son in whom I am well pleased.”
One of my favorite memories about him was how he would go out of his way to help many “hard cases.” On the weekend prior to his passing, July 4, 2012, I’ll never forget the line of people outside his hospital room waiting to say “goodbye.” Grown men were crying and others were huddled and praying. They were there to honor and thank the man they loved, the man who helped them “find the light.”
History and the bible are full of men who started well, but didn’t end up as well as they started… Kings Saul, David and Solomon for example. Given much, they slipped, fell or struggled in the end. But the bible also reminds us of many who didn’t start well but ended well.
Jacob started out a liar and conniver, but ended up a Patriarch and a loving father. Saul was a murderer, but ended up an apostle.
For fathers who have struggled or didn’t start well, I want you to know it’s not over. The rest of your life counts and your kids are waiting on you. For fathers like me who weren’t the most skilled at the start, we too can mature, grow and learn.
For all of us, whatever we face, we have a great opportunity to end well. It’s the story of redemption. It’s the story of Christ… dead, buried and risen forevermore!
Wherever you are in life, remember, “Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.” Ecclesiastes 7:8