I left my son in our box seats at Dodger Stadium to go take a private cell phone call, and he broke my heart.
When I returned I couldn’t see him, or our seats, or my jacket, which contained my wallet, and the key to our ride back home. I found him in another section down front with a group of other boys his age. I remember stalking toward him and motioning with gritted teeth, “Get over here!” The wide grin on his face from the joke they must have been sharing dropped to a pout even more puckered now by his new braces. When he finally reached me I yanked him by the collar over to a corner of the stadium concourse and shouted into his face, “I’m doing this here so I don’t have to embarrass you!” as usual, not realizing the damage had already been done.
And that’s when it happened.
Now, I know you must be thinking, what was he going to do? Lecture him? Or even worse, spank him, or beat him? Well, before I could do any of those he looked me in the soul with an eyeful of pain that could gut a gorilla and asked, “Is it over? Daddy, is it over?”
In that moment I could feel his innocence, his helplessness, his total loss of hope. It didn’t matter to him what I was saying to him, it mattered what I was feeling to him. To his eleven year old ears all my words during that entire encounter were like the inscrutable squawking the peanuts characters on television heard when any adult spoke to them. But what he was feeling from me was rage. And disapproval. And disgust. And rejection. The same things I felt from my own father when I was eleven. And the same thing my father must have felt from his. And like me, he just wanted it to be over.
All of that fell into my spirit in that one instance, and my heart crumbled. And the tears rushed to my eyes. And something died in me. Hopefully, for good. And something else was birthed. It was like I was having an out of body experience, standing there watching a grown man bully my son. He suddenly looked so small to me. Not his body that was just beginning to fill out, but his soul. It was like Yahweh had given me soul vision. I could finally see my son’s so clearly. And it was shrinking away from me with each breathe, like a lost man falling off a cliff while reaching up to his last hope for survival.
Boys need discipline and structure from their fathers—I totally get that—but what they want and need even more is gentleness, encouragement, and loving hugs; all fruit of the spirit that aren’t basic issue in our daddy tool kits when they are born, but have to be grown inside of us one day at a time. I’d already raised two girls and thought I was daddy deluxe. I’d preached about this and even written about it in my novels and parental rejection books. But I’d never really understood it until that very moment.
“Behold, therefore, the goodness and the severity of God.”
Parents have a special call on their lives to model both. I had the severity part down cold, it was the goodness thing that escaped me that day at Dodger Stadium, and so many other days before that. The soil of my heart had been scorched from my own childhood, so nothing was really growing in there. What had been passing for spiritual fruit in my life was really just wax. Decorative stuff. With zero nutritional value. Nothing I could feed my son.
I damaged my son’s soul for a jacket, a wallet, and some keys, all material things that could eventually be replaced. I was in the middle of making a bad trade when the Holy Spirit showed me myself. The tight fists balled up around his collar eventually relaxed, then morphed, into a tight, wet hug around his neck; and it didn’t matter anymore how or when we would get home. All that mattered was that finally, we would get there together.