Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation. Joel 1:8
Recently, I have been facilitating a group via Skype of to help leaders to lead like Jesus. This group consists of people from Kenya, Nigeria, Ukraine and two from the United States. One of our exercises asked us to use five words to describe our father. Very interesting exercise, and after I completed it, I asked my wife of almost 50 years what five words she would have used to describe my father. Four of the words she chose were on my list, too. Fortunately, all of the participants on our call had fathers and the words they used were similar: smart, hard worker, strict, loving, etc. Each of the participants spoke of the strong impact their fathers had on their lives and their outcomes as an adult.
The exercise also made me pause to reflect what five words my children would use to describe me. What legacy have I left behind on my children and my children’s children? If you are a father, it is something you should consider, too. What five words will your children use to describe you?
But the exercise has its limits. Not everyone has a father in today’s culture, either because of death or divorce where in the US the divorce rate is close to 50% and that rate is the same for Christians, not just unbelievers. More frequently, it is coming from single parent families where babies are born out of wedlock and the father never really enters the picture. In my case, my father was “absent” emotionally and physically during my formative years because he left the house at 6:30 am in the morning and returned at 6:30 pm at night, too tired to be involved in my life. Even so, he still left a mark, and later in life, we reconnected at a very deep level.
For several years, I joined my wife in prison ministry at the Women’s Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina which is a high security prison for female felons, some of whom are on death row. The majority of those women suffered abuse by their father – either emotionally, physically, and in some cases sexually. Their image of their own father clouds their ability to connect with even the Lord’s prayer which starts with “Our Father.” The impact of those fathers – either absent or abusive – has left permanent scars on their lives, and sometimes it is a hole that never gets filled.
One daughter of an acquaintance has a powerful testimony about her biological father who was verbally abusive, and told his daughter that she was not his daughter any more at age 15. At age 18 she ran away to a life of prostitution and drugs in New Orleans. You can watch her testimony at https://www.facebook.com/factoreffects/videos/vb.294929120520284/1156395081040346/?type=2&theater
Another young woman I met in Cameroon grew up without a father, and she still is working to fill the hole in her life. We have connected in a most interesting long distance relationship, and in many aspects, I am filling in the hole in her heart left by her absent father.
One of the strong biblical mandates is to “pass it on” to the next generation. In our culture where fathers have often either disappeared from their children’s lives (or if around, they have been abusive), there is a generation of young adults that need someone to replace that hole – to mentor them, if you will. My experience in talking to miillennials between 20 and 35 indicates that ninety (90%) of them want a mentor in their life. In an increasing number of cases, it is because they grew up in a dysfunctional family environment. We need to take that mandate seriously, and reach out to this next generation so that when they are older, they may not have five words that described their father, but they may have five words that described their mentor.
My challenge to the older generation is to get involved in the lives of the next generation. Think of someone you know who might need some encouragement or direction. Invite them to spend some time with you – most of them will jump at the chance. You will not regret it and you may help someone achieve something in life that they wouldn’t have achieved on their own. In the words of the advertising business, this is “priceless“.