When Dad pushes too hard
Written by Dave Stroder
“But I don’t want to do track.” My 17-year-old son, Josh, interrupted my lecture.
I was explaining for the third time that I expected him to pick an extracurricular activity.
We faced off in the large and thankfully empty Sunday school room.
I had just finished teaching a lesson on parenting. It would be safe to say that my class was far more interested in my lecturing than my son was.
One of the verses I had expounded on was Ephesians 6:1, which says, “Children obey your parents.” Maybe it was the sense of superior authority that had rushed to my head, but right there at church I decided to tell my boy a thing or two.
“I believe that investing in sports is a good use of your time. Kids today just sit around and play video games or do drugs. You’re not going to . . . “
“I can’t believe you just said that!” Josh’s eyes widened. “Do you think I do drugs?”
“I’m just saying I don’t want a pothead for a son. I think if you do track, it will keep you busy and out of . . . “
“Pothead? Dad, I don’t do drugs. I just don’t want to run around a track after school.”
Ignoring his comments, my voice rose with my temper. “I believe that it’s beneficial for your growth . . .”
Josh’s face tensed and reddened. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Don’t you raise your voice at me, young man!”
Josh leaned forward, clenching his fists, and seethed, “I don’t want to do track!”
After 15 minutes of my lecturing and interrupting, his words trembled and his deep voice rose an octave. A wave of tension ran through his 6-foot frame, and my son exploded in rage.
“I can’t talk to you!” he shouted.
A father’s mistake
For a moment, I thought he might attack me. I could feel the heat from his anger as he glared at me. To escape my haranguing, he burst through the doors, ran through the church parking lot and jumped into his 1965 red Plymouth Valiant. I followed after him.
I heard the engine howl as he hit the gas. Gravel sprayed, and his tires squealed once they hit the pavement. The sight of his car fishtailing and the sound of his revved engine made me realize the gravity of my mistake.
Ephesians 6:4 pricked my conscience: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (NASB). How could I teach about children obeying their parents and overlook the following verse directed squarely at me, a father? The praise of my Sunday school class that was still in my ears quickly quieted.
I stared out at the empty parking lot and down the busy roadway. Then I retreated inside and knelt on the church carpet. I gave no articulate prayer but muttered the only words I could: “Lord, I just pushed my boy over the edge. Forgive me.”
My numbness stayed with me as I walked to the car. I managed to smile and wave to a few straggling churchgoers. Then, as if to compensate for Josh’s reckless departure, I put the car in gear with extra caution and slowly turned out of the parking lot.
God’s exclamation mark
As soon as I pulled onto a four-lane highway, I saw a commotion in the distance. A half-mile ahead, police cars and a fire truck blocked part of the road. Flashing lights and sirens signaled a major accident. I couldn’t see the cars involved, but I suspected one was a red Valiant.
My heart sank into my stomach. Inch by agonizing inch, the traffic crept forward. Silence and an “O God, what did I do?” prayer hung in the car. Finally, I rolled up to the accident and strained to see whether a 1965 red Plymouth Valiant was involved. The more I stared, the more I could breathe. No red cars. No Valiant. No Josh.
Relief replaced grief. God had placed an exclamation mark on the possible consequences of my pushy behaviour. I steered the car clear of traffic and headed home to find my son.
The Valiant was in the driveway. I went in the house and called Josh down from his room. Once again the two of us were sitting face to face. I’m sure Josh expected another lecture.
“Son, there is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.’ “ My eyes filled with tears. “This morning I pushed you until you exploded. That was wrong. I am so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?” Humbly, I waited for his reply.
I could see the change in his eyes. His brow relaxed. “Of course, Dad. I’m sorry I got so upset.” No further explanation was needed.
“There’s one more thing,” I said as we sat back down. “That same verse says I have the responsibility of raising you with discipline. I was wrong for making you angry, but I wasn’t the one who drove recklessly out of the parking lot. That was you, Son.”
Josh fidgeted while I stretched out my hand, “Hand over the keys to your Valiant.”
Without an argument, my son fished his car keys out of his pocket and handed them to me. There was no anger, no frustration. Just mutual respect and love between an imperfect father and his son.
Dave Stroder pastors First Baptist Church in Salinas, California.