Friday, December 23, 2005

A Father's Legacy

The holidays always seem to bring moments of reflection for me. Forgive me if this seems a little narcissistic, and really long...
I'm sitting at Aroma's, and one of my friends (Cal) is talking about birthdays. He was talking about his birthday, and that he was born in 1937. It spun me off into another train of thought...My dad was born in 1932. I think about my dad often, but usually around his birthday, and around holidays. My dad, Jack Bishop, was an Old Spice wearing truck driver. He was what's called an OTR driver. "OTR" means Over The Road. He would be gone for long stretches at a time. To this day, when I smell diesel fuel or Old Spice after shave, I am taken back to memories of dad. Just after we moved to Texas, we went through a stretch where he would be gone for months at a time. So, I remember very little of what we did together when I was a little boy. I remember the smells, and that he had a mustache that tickled when he kissed me.
One big thing I remember is going to the drive-in movies in our van to watch Godzilla movie marathons. My mom, little sister and little brother would be asleep in the back of our conversion van while dad and I watched Godzilla destroy Tokyo in some movies and return to save it in others. I would cry at the end of each movie that Godzilla died in. To this day, if there's a Godzilla movie on, I've already seen it numerous times, but watch just the same.
I also remember when my mom had back surgery, and I was very young, watching the original Dracula movie (Nosferatu) and being terrified! Mom was at the hospital, and I had talked to her earlier on the phone (yes, we had phones back then. They were just rotary). But that night, after dark, when dad and I were sitting in the downstairs den, I had to call her again because I was freaking out! I've always been a fan of Dracula movies, shaped no doubt by my parent's love of that genre.
I remember watching Dallas Cowboy's games even though we lived in Ohio. I was born in Cincinnati, and should be a Bengal’s fan, but the Cowboys are my team. My love for sports started early. I started playing baseball and football when I was 7. Dad would agree to help coach my teams. He always made sure I had the latest and best equipment. At age 10, I had a Max-pro enameled helmet with our team logo encased just like the pros of that time had. Even though I was the one of the smallest kids on the team, dad taught me to be aggressive, and never give up. He seemed so proud of me as I excelled at every sport I played. And, there were days where I didn't excel, and caught all kinds of flack from him. My greatest embarrassment came when I let a ball go through my legs at second base. He chewed me out and pulled me from the game. At age 10, I led our Pop-Warner league in tackles (again, being one of the smallest kids). I had 254 tackles that season. The closest kid had 100 and something. Dad was really proud. I got stars to sew on my jersey for the tackles. When I was 11, I went out for an elite football team in inner-city Dallas, The Oak Cliff Mustangs. You had to make the team. It wasn't an "everyone plays" kinda team. I made the team (I was one of two white kids on the team). He was proud. And even though is was a little boy, I began to realize that dad loved me when I did good, and didn’t necessarily love me when I didn’t do good. He was that kinda guy. I heard him say over and over, “Play to win, or don’t play at all.” To me, this became a life motto that quickly became a win at all costs philosophy. To this day, I cringe thinking about that exchange during my baseball game.
Well, on the family front, dad wasn't the greatest of role models. My mom was his third wife. He had 8 kids, of which I was number 6. I was the first of my mom's kids, and grew up with a little brother and little sister. I met one of the older kids once, and don't even know the names of 2 of the older ones. When I was 13 years old, my mom and dad divorced, and I never saw him again. That was the trigger event for a long and sorry road I chose to walk down as a teenager.
Dad died when I was 19. I never got to say goodbye, and never got to share with him that Christ had changed me and could change him, too. I carry that with me, and will regret not making a greater effort to find him and share Christ with him.
When I was 24 years old, while sitting at a desk in Dr. Dickens’s Christian Ministries class in grad school, I realized that much of what I loved (movies, sports, coffee, etc) came from something other than shared experiences with my dad. As a little boy, I began to realize that I had my father’s attention and approval when I performed well, and that I had his wrath and ire when I didn’t. Certain events became things I loved because I garnered my father’s attention and approval, as any boy would. Certain events became things I hated because I could never perform well enough to be loved and accepted by him. The perplexing thing is that I still find myself asking if dad would be proud. My “win at all costs” mentality about sports and life wasn’t because I’m just that intense. It was because, even after his death, I was still seeking his approval. Not only was I still seeking dad’s approval, but I found myself transferring that same concept of life to God: that I could have God’s attention and approval if I was a winner. But that’s not the case at all. Without God, I could never be a winner. With God, I am a winner. Period. I may have failures in my walk, but God does not base His approval or acceptance of me on my performance. He bases it upon the Son whose blood I’ve been covered by. When God looks at me, He sees His Son, Jesus, in whom I dwell. There is a freedom that comes in that realization. Now, I can play to play, play to enjoy, and play to my heavenly Father’s enjoyment. I can also allow my son to play, give his best, and simply enjoy whatever he sets his hand to.
Why this, and why now? Well, holidays are often times of reflection, and I wanted to simply ask you to reflect on a couple things:
What have you transferred to God from your past that isn’t really Him?
How have you been striving for approval, from either God or man, that is striving in vain?
How do you portray God’s acceptance to others, especially your children? What legacy are you leaving for the world and for your family?
I hope that the greatest miracle of all this Christmas is that you will have a God encounter with the Christ child who came to set you free, to show you God’s love, and to empower you to share it with others.


Lara said...

Hey! I'll be calling you Monday but so far on Tuesday (we're not sure what time yet) Krystle has a dr's appointment, but she's SUPER PSYCHED about getting to see you guys! So hopefully on Monday we'll know what is going on!

Parke said...

I hope you folks had a great Christmas, dude. I look forward to seeing what God is going to do with your family and Journey in the new year.

Nicolas Nelson said...

Wow. Just clicked over here from Into the Mystic, where I love your posts. I had a similar childhood relationship with my dad, but happier ending: he's still alive at 76yrs old, it took him a decade to begin to understand my life of faith, but he's now defending me to his friends who criticize "that son of yours still living in the inner city".

Thanks for sharing your heart. I think I'll call my dad today... as you so poignantly point out, tomorrow might be too late, and every memory and point of contact is precious.