Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

 

My father is a quiet man, and I’m like him in that way. My father is a pensive man, and I’m like him in that way. My father takes his time before he speaks, I am trying to be more like him in that way. My father is a humble and gentle man, and Lord knows He has a lot more work to do in me before I’ll be like my father in that way.

Little boys often want to be just like their daddies when they grow up. They want to walk like them and talk like them, they want to dress the same way as them and get their hair cut the same way as them. They mimic their dads in every way possible, following behind them mirroring their stride, or sitting next to them trying to imitate their posture. They brag to their friends about how cool their dads are, and get upset if anyone questions what they know to be a definitive and immutable fact of the universe. But, at a certain point in their lives little boys become older boys who enter into puberty and their teenage years. During this time they are trying to figure out who they are, they are trying to become men, to stand on their own. During this time they often do not want to be anything like their dads, or at least they won’t admit that they still do. Their dad becomes a tyrant, a man who is preventing them from becoming who they think they want to be. He imposes unfair rules and gives annoying and outdated advice about life as he mistakenly understands it, at least in his son’s mind. His dad becomes a man that is everything he doesn’t want to be.

My dad always says that one of the most powerful phrases in the Bible is “but God,” I have come to understand what he means. But God in His mercy comforts and guides those older boys as they grow into young men. But God in His mercy tends to a father’s heart as he watches his son make bad decision after bad decision while racing down a road of turmoil and self-destruction. But God by His grace pulls a young man out of a destitute and dark life. But God by His grace brings a young man into His pasture, He nurtures and instructs Him in His ways. But God by His grace fills a father’s heart with love and forgiveness for his son. But God by His grace gives a father strength to carry his son as his son works to put his life back together. But God blesses a young man with a father who is a humble and faithful man of God. But God blesses a father by bringing his son home to him broken and ashamed yet redeemed and restored by Christ. But God…

My father was born in a small town in rural Indiana. Anyone who has sat under his preaching for any amount of time has heard many stories of his time growing up in that small town. My father came from poverty, from a time period when racism, discrimination, and prejudice meant all the odds were stacked against him. My father worked hard, he pressed forward and onward in the face of difficulties and adversities. My father educated himself, he worked crappy jobs, he went to school while raising four kids. He gave up some of his own aspirations, he gave up much of his own time to give his family a life filled with love and joy and peace. My father endured ridicule, injustice, mistreatment, shame, and heartache because he loves his family more than himself. My father held me in his arms after I came home from years of chasing hopelessness in a world of crime and death. My father told me he loved me after years of me showing him no love. My father showed me Christ…

I don’t know what I will become as my life goes on. I don’t know where I will end up or what my life will look like some years from now. I know this though: I want to be like my daddy. The stage play Fences is powerful, and toward the end there is an exchange between the character Rose and her son Cory. Cory’s dad has died and he has some unresolved anger at his father, but Rose offers him some thoughts that really spoke to me. Cory’s dad’s name was Troy Maxson, here is the dialogue between Cory and his mother:

CORY: The whole time I was growing up . . . living in his house . . . Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your flesh. It would wrap around you and lay there until you couldn’t tell which one was you anymore. That shadow digging in your flesh. Trying to crawl in. Trying to live through you. Everywhere I looked, Troy Maxson was staring back at me . . . hiding under the bed … in the closet. I’m just saying I’ve got to find a way to get rid of that shadow, Mama.

ROSE: You just like him. You got him in you good.

CORY: Don’t tell me that, Mama.

ROSE: You Troy Maxson all over again.

CORY: I don’t want to be Troy Maxson. I want to be me.

ROSE: You can’t be nobody but who you are, Cory. That shadow wasn’t nothing but you growing into yourself. You either got to grow into it or cut it down to fit you. But that’s all you got to make life with. That’s all you got to measure yourself against that world out there. Your daddy wanted you to be everything he wasn’t . . . and at the same time he tried to make you into everything he was. I don’t know if he was right or wrong … but I do know he meant to do more good than he meant to do harm.

To be clear, my father was nothing like Troy Maxson who was a mean and troubled man. However, I believe Rose’s words ring true for many sons and fathers. We try so hard to escape our father’s shadow, to distance ourselves from it, to be nothing like the man whom we look identical to in physical features, mind, and personality. Yet eventually we have to view these men as they are, flawed people who love us unconditionally and who want nothing but the best for us. At times they go about this in the wrong way and they hurt us, but their intentions are good. They want us to be better men than they ever were, and because of this they push us hard and discipline us, they’re strict and tough with us, and they hold us to a high standard.

What’s more is that we hurt them, we rebel against them, we reject them, walk all over them, and we break their hearts. Despite all of this they continue to love us, to pray for us, to offer us guidance and wisdom. And when we finally get our own heads and hearts together and realize how foolish and self-centered we’ve been, and we finally decide to make our way back home, they stand there waiting, as a matter of fact they run out to meet us, to embrace us. They cry out, “My boy has come home, he was lost, but he has returned to me!”

Maybe this is just my story. Maybe this is how it was for my father and me. Of course, I’ve heard enough stories from many people to know that this is far from the truth, that this is an experience shared by so many young men and their fathers. I’m growing into my father’s shadow, and I’m doing so eagerly because my father is a great man, and after all these years—29 to be exact—I still want to be like my daddy. Furthermore, my father wants me to more than just grow into his shadow, he wants me to outgrow it, to be more than he is, to be a better man than him. That’s a big goal to accomplish, but one that I’m willing to strive toward.

As it is with my dad so it is with God for He is my heavenly Father, and He has no flaws, He never changes. Yet, He calls me to be like Him, to walk in His footsteps the same way I would follow behind my dad as a child trying to mimic his walk. My heavenly Father sets a high standard that He calls me to just as my dad sets a high standard for me. My heavenly Father disciplines me, He hurts when I rebel against Him, but He continues to love me, to care for me, to offer me guidance and wisdom. He waits patiently ready to welcome me into His arms when I find nothing but despair and pain in this world and run back to Him. My father here on earth has given me an image and an understanding of who my heavenly Father is, and it has so fundamentally transformed my life that I am a new creation in Christ by the grace of God through faith in Christ.

Many of my friends, men and women, had terrible or nonexistent fathers. They have not known the love of a father, they have been rejected or abandoned by their fathers. They have been abused physically, verbally, and sexually by their fathers; the very man they trusted to protect them, to care for them, to provide for their needs, to teach them, and to love them is instead the man who broke their hearts and ripped their souls apart; he is the very man who harmed them in disgusting and horrific ways; he is the man who did not image their heavenly Father, but rather imaged that wicked and ancient being Lucifer himself. I have listened to the stories of many of my friends through their own tears and pain as they recount the things their fathers did to them, or simply the complete absence of the father they longed to know. But God…

But God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7). There is a Father, the Father, who loves us, and do not take this as me minimizing or ignoring the immeasurable pain and incalculable harm done to my friends by these men that were supposed to love and care for them. But God, the Father of lights in whom there is no shifting or shadow of changing stands as their Father where they had no father, His love surpasses the love their fathers would have showed them even if they had been the fathers they were supposed to be. Many of my friends who had horrible dads understand this, and it is amazing to see the peace they have found in that truth.

My father is a laid back man, and I’m like him in that way. My father is an artistic man, and I’m like him in that way. My father is a godly man, and I’m trying to be like him in that way with his guidance and support, and I haven’t quite become the man of God I know that I can be, But God…

 


 


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