Wineskins Archive

December 20, 2013

Fathers in the Fast Lane (Nov-Dec 1997)

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by Lynn Anderson
November – December, 1997

My father warned me years ago. When our kids came we asked Dad for advice on child rearing. He answered, “I can’t help you. I reared you in another setting and at a different time. Your kids are growing up in a changing world and they face pressures you never experienced. Parenting for you, son, will be far more difficult than it was for me.”

Later, a common drama repeatedly played itself out in my study. Scene one goes something like this: A student anguishes, “My parents don’t seem to understand me. But then I don’t know why my parents value the things they do, either. I guess I need to find their roots.”

Scene two: Enter parent. “My kids! I don’t understand them at all.” The parent may have grown up in a world where life was well ordered, where roots ran deep and values stood clear – and the whole town helped reinforce good morals and stable lifestyles. Then the communities got linked by urban sprawl; Mom and Dad soon found themselves rolling down the freeways in big cosmopolitan cities, where they are now raising their children – children born far from the stable roots and sterling values of the parents.

David and Absalom were like this. David was born to the Bethlehem pasture. His roots ran deeply through the soil around Bethlehem and into the God of his fathers. He sang the Hebrews songs and prized the ancient values. Even when David was catapulted from the back pasture to the front page, firm values shaped his life. When he wandered, as he often did, he knew his roots and he was always drawn back.

David’s son Absalom, however, was born in a palace. He didn’t know his father’s roots. David, in a world packed with pressure and action, did not take time to help his son find the ancient Hebrew ways. No invisible infrastructure held Absalom’s life stable. As a result, David and Absalom seemed to live on different planets. The tragic result is known to the ages.

A family in the fast lane.

Reaping the whirlwind.

After his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his friend Uriah, David repented and God forgave him. However, the consequences of sin often continue long after forgiveness … “Sowing to the wind. Reaping the whirlwind.” Fathers and sons. Roots and freeways. David and Absalom. David sowed the wind and in his family, he reaped the whirlwind.

First, rape. Amnon, son of David, fell in lust with his half sister Tamar. When Amnon feigned illness, David sent word to Tamar to “go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.”

Poor David, how out of touch he was. When Tamar arrived with the food, Amnon raped her, sent Tamar out and bolted the door.

David was furious. So, David, you are only furious? But what else could David do? Where did Amnon get that look in his eye? Could he have been imitating the look in his father’s eye? How does David punish a boy for taking a page out of Daddy’s own book?

Absalom was furious too, but Absalom’s fury had teeth in it. For two years his hatred festered and watched for an opportune moment. Then rape begat revenge. Absalom casually invited David to come along on a family sheep-shearing. David declined, blind to his son’s murderous intentions. So the boys went without their dad. Meanwhile, Absalom gathered his men and instructed them in treachery. “We will get Amnon drunk.”

Oh, David, where have we heard this before? Who got Uriah drunk?

“When he is drunk,” plotted Absalom, “fall on him and kill him.” Deja vu! Another page from Daddy’s bloody book!

Murder. Brother against brother. Poor David. How he grieved. He was paralyzed by his own guilt. Yes, David was “grieved.” That’s all. Big deal.

Absalom hid in Geshur with his grandfather for three years, during which time David made no attempt to bring his son home. Finally, after those three years, David brought Absalom back to Jerusalem, but, incredibly, even then David said, “He must go to his own house” (2 Samuel 14:24). So for two more years Absalom did not see his father’s face.

The opposite of love is not hatred; it is indifference. Whether he meant to or not, David was communicating the opposite of love for Absalom.

True, all this time David was crying over his son, but Absalom didn’t see his father’s tears. David’s pride stood in the way. Or was it insecurity? What convoluted thoughts tortured David’s mind?

Through all this, Absalom wanted to be with his father. Did he have mixed feelings, too? What son really wants to be rejected by his own dad? Absalom pleaded with Joab, “Help me get an audience with my father.” When Joab ignored the appeal, Absalom set Joab’s field on fire.

Kids still do this. When children are ignored too long by parents, they will “set some fields on fire.” The fire may fall in a variety of ways. I sat on the back porch of a Tennessee farmhouse as a sweet little girl told me she was trying to get pregnant to gain her parents’ attention. She set the fields on fire.

Other kids try booze or drugs, or they even attempt suicide, desperately calling for a relationship with distanced parents. Yet like Absalom, they are often left out of the parents’ emotional loop. A father may even be with his children for years physically without the children ever really seeing his face – only the reflection of it in the mirror of the TV set.

According to U.S. News & World Report, 53 percent of teenagers report spending less than 30 minutes a day with their fathers. Twenty-five percent do not discuss their daily activities with their parents. Fifty percent had not gotten a hug or kiss. Fifty-four percent had not heard the words, “I love you.”

Rape! Revenge! Revolt! David’s skay continued to rain fallout from his horrendous sins. Violence escalated as Absalom actually plotted the death of his own father. He cleverly won the hearts of the people by sitting at the gates, shaking hands, kissing babies, making lavish “campaign promises,” and grabbing the power. Finally, Absalom openly and decisively moved to kill David and seize Dad’s throne.

Terrifying news reached David’s ears: “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13). David fled from his own son.

Child revolt now has the parent on the run.

Beecher and Beecher, in their book Parents on the Run suggest that “the adult-centered home of yesteryear made parents masters and children slaves. The child-centered home of today, however, has made the parents the slaves and the children the masters.”

Master. Slave. Absalom became both.

A father’s sins had led to rape, then revenge, revolt, and even repulsivenes.

Absalom pitched a tent on the palace roof and had sexual intercourse with his father’s wives “in the sight of all Israel.” In the ancient world, the conqueror often ravaged the wives of the conquered to state total domination. This accounts in part for Absalom’s repulsive actions, but he added a touch of eloquent mockery. “The roof” was where David had lusted after Bathsheba and fetched her for adultery; so, on “the roof” Absalom tore another dreadful page from the father’s book!

As David fled Jerusalem, “the whole countryside wept aloud” (2 Samuel 15:23). David, with his eyes scarcely visible under the cloak thrown over his bowed head, stumbled blindly up the steep, the whiteness of his bared feet splotched with blood, his body convulsed in sobs, “weeping as he went” (v. 30).

The people around him were wailing, too, but for different reasons. The people wept over a lost kingdom – David cried over a lost boy.

David’s family was running completely out of control in the fast lane.

In the systems school of family therapy, researches talk of “genograms,” which trace patterns within family systems from generation to generation. The foibles of the parents repeat themselves in the children with alarming regularity. This certainly rang true for David.

From rape and revenge through revolt to repulsiveness. All led to enormous regrets. Down they go. Families in the fast lane. Absalom attacked David and his armies. David sent his troops out to repel the attack, but with strange orders. As the lines of fierce armed men marched out the gates of Mahanaim, I can see David grab the arm and look into the eyes of each officer pleading, “Be careful for my son. Win the battle, but please be careful. He is my boy.”

But soldiers are not trained to be careful. Absalom fled defeated that day, and a low-hanging limb snagged his hair. Joab ruthlessly ran him through with darts, and Absalom died on the spot. Messengers ran to David and bluntly reported, “I wish all of your enemies were as dead as Absalom.”

Poor David. Disaster in the fast lane. Stumbling up the stairs under the weight of his sorrow. Agony. Tears. Grief over his dead son. But even more grief over the regrets of a guilty father. “Oh, my son Absalom. If only I had died instead of you!” (2 Samuel 18:33).

We reluctantly leave the scene for now, to backtrack and review: How did David get here? We must know so we don’t wind up here ourselves.

Ramp to the Fast Lane

David’s sad end is likely not attributable to one sin alone but to the style of his life once he entered the fast lane.

To begin with, David was out of sight. he was seldom at home. Too many battles. Too many responsibilities. Too many wives. Too many children. How could intimacy flourish?

Too many soldiers to keep track of, too many construction projects, too much money to count. Too many preoccupations. David was the classic absentee father.

In one form or another it occurs in families of many businessmen, athletes, other celebrities, politicians, and even preachers. Reaping the whirlwind. Absentee father. Fast lane. Out of sight. No time right now. Someone else will nurture “roots.” The Sunday school teacher. The youth minister.

“What’s that? Of course, I love you! Why else would I have given you that BMW? I am eager to send you to the best schools; nothing is too good for you. Be an achiever, boy, a winner.”

Dad is anchored by his roots, but the son’s roots end at the hard surface of the freeway, because Dad is out of sight.

David didn’t know his boys. When a father is out of sight, inevitably he will drift out of touch. he didn’t know Amnon. He didn’t seem to recognize in Amnon’s eye the lustful look, which had once been his own. He was out of touch with Absalom, too, oblivious to the murderous expression on his face. For two years Absalom plotted revenge against his brother right under David’s nose. Not only was David out of touch by being out of sight, but he also was out of touch emotionally. Absalom, the wayward son, was allowed to live in the same town with his father for years but not allowed to see his father’s face. How out of touch! Tears over his stranger-son. Pride. Insecurity. Confusion. Emotional distance.

For all their geographic proximity, too many dads are out of touch with their children.

David was not only out of sight and out of touch, buthe was also way out of line. Treacherous murder to cover adultery. David was big-time, heavy-duty out of line.

Kids suffer when parents are out of line. The tragic reality is that, even though kids may be angry at their parents’ sins, they often imitate with a vengeance the very patterns they have hated in their parents, whether it be workaholism, alcoholism, affairs, or divorce.

My secretary nervously interrupted a “no-phone-calls-accepted-hour.” “You have got to take this one,” she said. The caller instantly grabbed my attention. “Sir,” he mumbled. “would you please pray with me? I am waiting for my mother and her boyfriend to come home. When they walk through the door, I am going to blow them away with this loaded rifle. Then I will blow myself away. Please pray for me. They are due any minute.”

After a long, tense conversation I was able to persuade the young man that I should come to his house and pray with him.

When I walked in his door he was indeed clutching a loaded and cocked 30.06 in his crippled hand. As he tried to shake hands with me, he dragged its muzzle across my belt buckle. In an agitated and drug-addled state of mind, he poured out his story, which included child abuse from the time of his earliest memory. His mother had lived with an endless series of boyfriends. Once he remembered being locked for days in a travel trailer. His mother and friend would come around occasionally to throw food on the ground at his feet and, when he reached for it, they would kick it away from him and laugh.

Now, at age 21, he had begun to treat his girlfriend like his mother had treated him. His mother had reported him, and she was committing him for psychiatric care. In his confused and pent-up rage, he vowed to kill them all.

Not all stories are this extreme, of course. However, some dark and dreadful time bombs tick in distanced and disillusioned young hearts, which roll down freeways in fancy automobiles.

Out of sight. Out of touch. Out of line. This left David completely out of control. When his daughter, Tamar, was raped by her brother, David was merely grieved. When Absalom’s hands shed Amnon’s blood, David was angry. Grieved and angry! But he did nothing! What is a father to do when paralyzed by guilt? How do you punish your sons for copying pages from your own book?

Although David was out of control, he was not out of time. True, some of David’s sons were dead, but he still had time to zero in on Solomon. David was not beyond the circle of God’s love. Solomon at this time was not a junior high preteen. He was a man with a family and in line for the throne.

Even so, David had not taken his hands off Solomon’s heart – nor had God taken his hands off David.

David charged Solomon: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9-10).

Too bad David hadn’t said these things to Amnon and Absalom!

By this time, though, deep grief had taught him high values. With Solomon, David put some roots straight down through the hard surface of the fast lane.

About the time I hit my mid-forties, our children began to marry and leave us. I dreaded the rapidly approaching day when Chris, our youngest son, would leave home. Everything important to me was slipping into the past. The future seemed to have vaporized. I definitely identified with Ralph Cushman when he wrote:

I lay awake last night.
You ask me why? And I can’t say exactly,
only I have lost my boy.
And you won’t understand, unless you
too have lost a pal,
a boy who walked with you the fields,
who jumped with you the brook, and
together with you climbed the trees.
You taught him all the wonders of the skies
And of your hopes for him.
And then one day you came to realize,
that you had lost your boy.
How did I lose him?
Ah, there is the rub.
I lost him just the way my old Dad lost me,
there came a girl and I need say no more.
But just the same I’ve lost my boy.

I lay awake last night.
I’ve lost my pal
And now I walk the field alone.
Alone I walk the road beside the brook.
And everywhere I see his tracks.
Marks of him.
But he is gone.
I think that somewhere in the great
beyond there must be a place
where Dads find once again their pals,
and yet I don’t quite understand how
such a thing could be
Life is so strange.

Me, too, Ralph. Me too. But ….

Then our grandchildren came along. Hallelujah! Suddenly, everything important in life shifted to the future. I am more eager than ever to teach the ways of God to my sons and daughters and their children. Or to your grandkids. Or someone else’s. Carolyn and I grandparent dozens of ids besides our own.

We learned this from David.

Things may not have gone well in your family. Possibly you have been out of sight, out of touch, out of control; but you are not out of time. Maybe it is not too late.

Drop this magazine. Get up and make some phone calls. Circle around you what family you can. Sit down and say, “I know now that in many ways I have failed you. But could our family have a new start? We can still change the way we live. Let’s be family: father, mother, children and grandchildren for the future generations.”

While we are still in the mood for poetry, let’s heare one more:

An old man, traveling a lone highwya,
Came at evening cold and gray
To a chasm vast and deep and wide
That barred his way at eventide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
That turbid stream held no fear for him.
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And builded a bridge to span the tid.
“Good friend,” said a fellow-traveler near,
“You’re wasting your time in building here.
You never again will pass this way;
Your journey is over at close of day.

“You’ve crossed your chasm deep and wide.
Why build this bridge at eventide?”
The traveler lifted his old, gray head.
“Good friend, on the way I’ve come,” he said,
“There follows on my path today
A youth who, too, must pass this way.
This stream, which was but naught to me,
To that fair-haired lad may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

Here the familiar poem ends – but it didn’t say enough to suit me. Our children grow up in the fast lane where roots are not automatically stimulated and where the challenges to their spiritual development are vastly different from our experiences. So I have taken the liberty to scratch a few lines of my own to complete the poem for our times:

When the youth arrived at the chasm wide,
He scorned the bridge which spanned the tide.
“That bridge is obsolete to me,
I have strength to leap the stream, you see.
But from my vantage point,” he said,
“I can see that an ocean lies ahead
Which never presented its challenge to you.
So how can you help me see it through?”
The old man listened, then nodded his head.
“You have taught me a lesson today,” he said.
Then traveler and youth worked side by side,
Ripped planks from the bridge which spanned the tide,
And from these timbers tried and true,
They fashioned a vessel to sail the blue.
Then, driven by winds from the heavens above,
They challenged the ocean together in love.

Excerpts from The Shepherd’s Song, Howard Publishing CompanyWineskins Magazine

Lynn Anderson

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