If I had to guess I would put his age at around sixty. It was kind of hard to pinpoint. He was one of those the cliché fit “as being road hard and put up wet.” I don’t remember ever hearing a word uttered from him in any of our previous classes, but this particular day he made up for his silence in a big way.
I had been teaching a class on fathering for several years. I usually taught a small group in one location on Monday evenings, and then a much larger group at a local facility on Thursday evenings that housed men dealing with various addictions. The second venue offered the greatest challenges, but I confess that the rewards could at times be much greater.
My “silent” student was a part of the Thursday evening group. He had been in the rehab facility for about a month. He attended my class each week even though he did not participate. For a lot of the men it was a way to escape the boredom of their daily routine. While others were seeking answers that just might help lead them to sobriety.
This particular session I had prompted the men to go through an exercise. The class was rather large during this time. There were 30-35 men in the class. So, getting them all on the same page at once was a challenge at best. The Lord was gracious that evening and we were having a lively discussion. I had asked the men to write down 3-5 things that they had in common with their fathers. Then, I asked them to write down 3-5 things they felt they had nothing in common with their fathers. I explained that they could put down things as easy as a love of hunting or fishing, or mannerisms such as how they walked, dressed, or treated the opposite sex.
I gave them several minutes to work on the exercise. When I felt they had had enough time to finish I brought the class back to attention. I got them to start out with the positive side of the exercise. For most it was easier to come up with things they shared in common with their father. At this point in the story let me interject something. I realized early on that I would have some who never really knew their biological fathers while growing up. So, I encouraged them to relate to the most positive male figure from their developmental years in working the exercise.
The range of answers I got in return varied from humorous to the sublime. Some took it very serious while others tried to be the class clown with their answers. Some were quite thought provoking, and led to some serious discussion. A few of the men shared that one area they had in common with their fathers was addiction itself. Some still had a love of football and baseball because their fathers had coached little league with them, or took them to their first major league game when young. This part achieved the goal of eliciting some kind of response from individuals with hope of bringing everyone into the discussion that followed.
I had used this exercise several times in the past with other classes. I never really knew what to expect because the second part of the exercise tends to evoke deeper reflection and honesty. It makes a man look beyond the blame for the state he finds himself, to a point of accepting that he is in control of the choices he makes.
A couple of the guys in the class shared that their fathers had been angry all the time, and that they decided that they would change that in themselves. Others shared about how they had learned how to treat a woman by not following their father’s example of spousal abuse towards their mother.
That’s when it happened! Mr. “Silent” spoke up for the first time. As soon as he began talking I noticed a deathly quiet come over the rest of the group. He said without fanfare “my father was the meanest (expletive deleted) that ever lived! I hated him when I was a kid and I hate him now even though he’s been dead for over fifteen years.”
As soon as he finished everyone in the class looked at me. They wanted to know how I would respond. Believe me I wondered the same thing. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide my next words. I asked him if he had any children. He responded quickly with an emphatic “YES.” I asked what kind of relationship he had with his children. He again responded quite emphatically “my children and I have a great relationship. They love me and I love them. I would never mistreat any of them!” I looked him in the eye and said in a slow and steady voice that it seemed to me he had learned something from his father. He had learned how not to treat those he loved.
Shortly thereafter we concluded our meeting for the week. The following week we met in the same classroom. Mr. “Silent” was no longer there. Either he had finished his rehab assignment, or he had checked himself out by his own volition. I’ll never know for sure. However, I really felt we had some unfinished business. It was obvious that the rest of the class felt the same.
When class started one of the guys who had been present the prior week asked me what I thought about what had happened. Others then joined in and told me that they weren’t sure how I was going to respond to his outburst. Most agreed that I did a good job of responding to him. I explained that I had prayed for the right words to speak in the moment. I then went on to say that I wished he was still around. He needed to hear about a Savior that could take the hurt and hatred away that had plagued his soul for so long. He could have a Savior that could fill him with forgiveness for the one who had aided in causing him to depend on drugs and alcohol instead of a life of sobriety.
That opened the door for another discussion. I opened the Bible to the Gospel of John and shared about how Christ was able to clean each of them up by forgiving their sins and putting a new heart in place of that old addicted one they had now. I got to plant some seeds that day. To God be the Glory!