I sat on my front porch watching a lonely figure walking the sidewalk like a night guard keeping watch over the city; barely visible except for the occasional glow of his cigarette and his dog who was leading the way. His appearance was a ghostly reminder of one who had long passed away.
For many years this was the nightly scene of a man and his dog; each going outside to do one more thing before turning in for the night. Each night the two of them would patrol the neighborhood as the non-insomniacs slept.
But both the man and dog had long passed away several decades before; so how was it that I was still seeing them? Were they ghosts aimlessly walking eternity in my neighborhood?
No, this was the son of the man long gone, who now lived in his father’s house.
This man was the second generation who would perform this nightly habit of walking a dog while smoking one last cigarette for the day, for he had learned this ritual while his dad was alive.
This was the result of a boy watching his father showing him (intentionally or unintentionally) how to go through daily life.
As I sat and watched him, I realized that as a dad (and grandfather) I have passed on systems and patterns and habits that may affect generations; some good, some not so good.
I thought of another father who had influenced his son to follow in his footsteps.
"Good Good Father" is a song heard in churches and on radios around the world. It was written by Pat Barrett, lead singer of the Atlanta-based band, Housefires, along with Anthony Brown. The song was brought into the spot light when it was recorded by Chris Tomlin.
Pat wrote the song to introduce his own daughter to the Heavenly Father who so transformed his life. It was Pat’s attempt to explain to his children who God is; to tell them what He is like.
I first met Pat when he was very young along with his sister, his mother Daryl, and his father Marty at a pastor’s conference.
As I thought of the song, I realized that Pat wrote this song influenced by his own experience with his father Marty.
I really connected with Marty when first we met sometime around 1996. He is a very funny man who lights up a room with his presence. When he is around, very few people can escape his outreaching personality.
Marty is a man with a theater and arts background who had responded to a call into ministry and serves as a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia. Marty is a man full of compassion and mercy and reaches out to the marginal people of our society.
His church is a melting pot of denominations and races who gather each week to discover who God is in a city still tainted with prejudice and racism.
It is a multi-cultural, living bridge connecting God, the world, and the various parts of the Body of Christ. Healing ministries, the arts, outreach to the city are just a few of the ways they spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a broken world; specifically, in DeKalb county Georgia where nations live, highways converge, and God invites all to His table.
Marty is a model of love to his world and in his home. And Pat grew up observing this love and he could write and sing about a “good, good father” because he knew both the love of an earthly and a heavenly father.
So, dads, what are your sons learning from you? Years after you are gone, what will be the habits and belief systems passed on to your sons? What will be the songs that they are singing that they will pass on their children?
The answer will be loosely based upon not how perfect you are or have been, but rather on who is influencing you. Do you know the love of this Heavenly Father? Has He left His mark on your life?
He is a Good, Good Father; it’s who He is. He is perfect in all His ways. And you are loved by Him
“The return to the "Father from whom all fatherhood takes its name" allows me to let my dad be no less than the good, loving, but limited human being he is, and to let my heavenly Father be the God whose unlimited, unconditional love melts away all resentments and anger and makes me free to love beyond the need to please or find approval.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming