Above (L-R): Christian Burhus, Morgan Gerelds Burhus; Maggie, Alli, Jennifer, Todd, and BK Gerelds
Parenting is perhaps the most challenging and critical job on the planet. No matter how many books you read or advice you heed from experts and wiser, older loved ones, no one has ever been you or raised your child within your particular set of circumstances. And maneuvering through the teen years can be particularly overwhelming.
With Scripture as required reading, dependence on the Holy Spirit will ultimately help parents navigate the most challenging situations. And since the heavenly Father knows all parents better than they know themselves, His direction and methods may surprise and require parents to trust Him in ways that can feel disarming.
“It was a stake in the ground,” said Todd Gerelds in an interview with AFA Journal. He referred to the day he sat in the yard and invited his daughter to throw food at him. It was in typical food fight fashion with one exception – there was no fighting back. He just sat there and took it.
Learned by example
Gerelds is the father of four girls (ages 14 to 21) and author of Woodlawn, the story of courage and strength his father, legendary high school football coach Tandy Gerelds, exhibited at the height of volatile racial tension in the early 1970s in Birmingham, Alabama. It inspired the 2015 Erwin Brothers’ movie Woodlawn.
Gerelds’s dad was a strong, determined, principled man who shot straight from the shoulder. That’s part of what made him a good coach. Though he wasn’t perfect, in many ways, Gerelds desired to emulate his dad, who had amassed such deep respect far and wide.
“You can know all the right things and still be wrong,” he explained, “I’ve had that experience a lot as a father.”
For instance, a strong work ethic and drive to succeed were instilled so concretely in Gerelds, it became a roadblock between him and his wife and children.
And although his dad’s volume was dialed down around the house compared to the football field, he still raised his voice as a way of letting others know he was serious. It was how he got things accomplished. Predictably, the son followed suit.
“I found out that doesn’t work with girls!” Gerelds exclaimed. “I don’t think we, as men, understand the intimidating presence we can be with girls.”
Leveled by emotion
“One day about three years ago, I was defending one daughter to another,” said Gerelds. “Then they both turned on me, and I felt really betrayed. It came out as anger, and I started yelling. And then, suddenly – I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit, but I began to weep.”
In that moment, he looked into his girls’ adult lives and was immediately crushed by the prospect of seeing them in a counseling office because of his angry outbursts.
“Right then, I told them I would never yell at them again, and I haven’t,” he said. “If you saw my home of origin, you would know that really is remarkable.”
Gerelds’s pastor said something that hit hard and stuck with him:
“Men should be the chief repenters in the home. First, we need to repent before God. And then we should go to our kids and tell them how we’ve blown it. And then we ask them how we’ve hurt them.”
After Gerelds apologized to one of his daughters for humiliating her a number of times, he did something a bit unconventional.
“I’m not saying this is a good idea for everyone,” he chuckled. “But I actually bought certain food items I thought she would enjoy throwing at me. And she really did enjoy it!”
Gerelds now tries to use his energy listening and validating his daughters’ feelings rather than defending himself. “I think the really important thing is to give them an opportunity to share how they’ve been hurt.
Led by Christ
“Sometimes that will feel unfair,” he explained. “If it was a misunderstanding, you can explain, but back it up with an apology for how they are feeling. Daughters want to be loved by their daddies, but they will keep their guard up if they are being told they are wrong about their feelings.”
Gerelds would often become hurt and offended when he felt disrespected, but he came to understand his anger and defensiveness were really driven by pride.
“You have to know who you are in Christ,” he explained. “A man would rather be angry than hurt. If we’re hurt, we feel weak. If we’re angry, we feel strong. But it’s not true, and it ends up damaging our relationships.
“As much as I loved my dad, he provoked me to anger at times. And I can’t say it didn’t cause me some problems. There’s gravity to the role the father plays. If there’s damage, God can heal it.”
For Gerelds, it has taken time to restore trust with his daughters. It didn’t come solely through a food fight or anything else.
“Even though I became a Christian when I was 17, I’ve probably grown the most in the last five years,” he said. “Immaturity is expected to a certain degree with our kids. It shouldn’t be expected from the dad. Fathering isn’t about me. It’s about my children.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t tell my children what to do or discipline them. I just don’t do it out of anger. It’s an ongoing process. We are all sinners. Our children are going to sin. And we can’t control everything.
“But I’m closer to my kids than ever. And they are also more respectful.”
From the Mrs.
We went through an extremely dark period that lasted 10-15 years.
Because of some unexpected challenges, parenting had become really tricky. Because Todd was very competent in his job and had many hobbies, it was easier for him to be away.
I think the stress from trying to be the best in his job ramped up his temper and created a volatile environment.
As a wife, I had tried all the weapons in my arsenal. I tried to get super organized. I tried everything I could to make things better. But it kind of felt like there was no way it could get better.
My respite was a porch area where I would pray, asking God to heal our family – to bring Todd’s heart back to our children, and our children’s hearts back to him.
During the Woodlawn promotion, we were in the public eye, and it was completely crazy in our life. We were going through counseling at the time. That’s when we learned tools of communication.
And we began doing 21 days of prayer and fasting with our church. And that’s when I really remember things changing. That led to that one miraculous episode when Todd broke down in tears. Everything changed after that.
— Jennifer Gerelds
Follow Todd and Jennifer
Learn about their speaking appearances at toddgerelds.com.
See their books reviewed here:
▶ Always Fall Forward – Todd’s stories of things learned from his dad.
▶ Everyday Grace for Mothers – 60 Devotions by Denaé Jones and Jennifer.