I’ll never forget this man who once lived there with his two young sons. Even though I was young, I knew something wasn’t right, and it turned out that he physically abused them. Or so I’m pretty sure. My brother once said that he, through the window, saw the father throw one of the boys across the room, and when they came outside to play they were often garnished with fresh bruises.
One day my dad came home from work and playfully wrestled with me and my siblings in the yard. These two young boys were outside with us when he did this, and once he went inside they said to us:
“You guys are lucky.”
“Why?” we asked.
“Because your dad loves you.”
Remembering the event causes my eyes to well up with tears. What would motivate a grown man to assault two powerless little boys? The entire scene makes me thankful for my dad, but at the same time, brokenhearted for so many who grow up in a fatherless home. And when I say “fatherless,” I mean both physically absent fathers and physically present fathers who give the title a bad name.
I read Donald Miller’s latest book, Scary Close, yesterday, and discovered something interesting about fathers. Miller worked on a government task force studying fatherhood and healthy families, and learned that one of the main causes of the breakdown of the American family is the absence of fathers. He traces this absence back to the Industrial Revolution (IR), when men left their homes and farms to work on assembly lines.
While the IR served the world in terrific ways, it also devastated the home. Prior to the IR, fathers used to connect their sense of worth to the well-being of their wives and children, but after the IR they began to associate it with efficiency and productivity in manufacturing. By doing this fathers undermined the foundation of the world they so eagerly sought to serve.
Miller calls this a “mild tragedy” (I would call it a “major” one) and asserts that “intimacy in family relationships” dissolved within just a “few generations” (189).
So what does this have to do with my old neighbor? Well, the way I see it, both incidents portray an abusive father, albeit one is physical and the other is emotional, (and perhaps even spiritual). In both cases the family suffers.
The Bible teaches us that children are “like arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Ps 127:4). To be clear, the Psalmist means that the man with the children is the one who has the arrows, but fathers often treat their children like they are arrows in the hand of the enemy, an enemy who is aiming these arrows straight at the heart of the man’s worth and value that he would otherwise have in worldly success. The barbarous truth is that many men (and woman) think children cramp their style, and keep them from achieving true success, and thus devalues their lives.
Don Miller writes,
God doesn’t give us crying, pooping children because he wants to advance our careers. He gives them to us for the same reason he confused language at the Tower of Babel, to create chaos and deter us from investing too much energy in the gluttonous idols of self-absorption (90).To be perfectly honest, I sometimes find myself trying to find self worth in what I can achieve outside the home rather than in it. But when I come home at night and see my daughter looking up at me with her gorgeous big eyes, waving at me with her backwards wave (it’s the cutest thing, seriously), my priorities are quickly realigned.
If I find my self worth in writing a New York Times Bestseller, and my own children disdain me, then I’ve sacrificed my arrows for shiny, inferior armor. But if I find my honor in raising a loving family, then suddenly, I’m Legolas. And that’s pretty cool.