“Fathers in the Fast Lane”
My father warned me years ago. When our kids came we asked Dad for advice on child rearing. He answered, “I can’t help you. I reared you in another setting and at a different time. Your kids are growing up in a changing world and they face pressures you never experienced. Parenting for you, son, will be far more difficult than it was for me.”
Later, a common drama repeatedly played itself out in my study. Scene one goes something like this: A student anguishes, “My parents don’t seem to understand me. But then I don’t know why my parents value the things they do, either. I guess I need to find their roots.”
Scene two: Enter parent. “My kids! I don’t understand them at all.” The parent may have grown up in a world where life was well ordered, where roots ran deep and values stood clear—and the whole town helped reinforce good morals and stable lifestyles. Then the communities got linked by urban sprawl; Mom and Dad soon found themselves rolling down the freeways in big cosmopolitan cities, where they are now raising their children—children born far from the stable roots and sterling values of the parents.
David and Absalom were like this. David was born to the Bethlehem pasture. His roots ran deeply through the soil around Bethlehem and into the God of his fathers. He sang the Hebrew songs and prized the ancient values. Even when David was catapulted from the back pasture to the front page, firm values shaped his life. When he wandered, as he often did, he knew his roots and he was always drawn back.
David’s son Absalom, however, was born in a palace. He didn’t know his father’s roots. David, in a world packed with pressure and action, did not take time to help his son find the ancient Hebrew ways. No invisible infrastructure held Absalom’s life stable. As a result, David and Absalom seemed to live on different planets. The tragic result is known to the ages.
A Family in the Fast Lane Reaping the Whirlwind
After his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his friend Uriah, David repented and God forgave him. However, the consequences of sin often continue long after forgiveness. “Sowing to the wind. Reaping the whirlwind.” Fathers and sons. Roots and freeways. David and Absalom. David sowed the wind and in his family, he reaped the whirlwind.
A father’s sins had led to rape, then revenge of one son to another, revolt by Absalom against his father, and even repulsiveness as Absalom publicly humiliated his father by disgracing them publicly on the roof of the palace. All led to enormous regrets.
Down They Go… Families in the Fast Lane
Absalom attacked David and his armies. David sent his troops out to repel the attack, but with strange orders. As the lines of fierce armed men marched out the gates of Mahanaim, I can see David grab the arm and look into the eyes of each officer pleading, “Be careful for my son. Win the battle, but please be careful. He is my boy.”
Grief over his dead son. But even more grief over the regrets of a guilty father.
But soldiers are not trained to be careful. Absalom fled defeated that day, and a low-hanging limb snagged his hair. Joab, ruthlessly ran him through with darts, and Absalom died on the spot. Messengers ran to David and bluntly reported, “I wish all of your enemies were as dead as Absalom.” Poor David. Disaster in the fast lane. Stumbling up the stairs under the weight of his sorrow. Agony. Tears. Grief over his dead son. But even more grief over the regrets of a guilty father. “Oh, my son Absalom. If only I had died instead of you!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
We reluctantly leave the scene for now, to backtrack and review: How did David get here? We must know so we don’t wind up here ourselves.
Ramp to the Fast Lane
David’s sad end is likely not attributable to one sin alone but to the style of his life once he entered the fast lane.
To begin with, David was out of sight. He was seldom at home. Too many battles. Too many responsibilities. Too many wives. Too many children. How could intimacy flourish? Too many soldiers to keep track of, too many construction projects, too much money to count. Too many preoccupations. David was the classic absentee father.
Dad is anchored by his roots, but the son’s roots end at the hard surface of the freeway, because Dad is out of sight. Not only was David out of touch by being out of sight, but he also was out of touch emotionally. Absalom, the wayward son, was allowed to live in the same town with his father for years but not allowed to see his father’s face. How out of touch! Tears over his stranger-son. Pride. Insecurity. Confusion. Emotional distance.
David was not only out of sight and out of touch, but he was also way out of line. Treacherous murder to cover adultery. David was big-time, heavy-duty out of line.
Kids suffer when parents are out of line. The tragic reality is that, even though kids may be angry at their parents’ sins, they often imitate with a vengeance, the very patterns they have hated in their parents, whether it be workaholism, alcoholism, affairs, or divorce.
Out of sight. Out of touch. Out of line. This left David completely out of control. When his daughter, Tamar, was raped by her brother, David was merely grieved. When Absalom’s hands shed Amnon’s blood, David was angry. Grieved and angry! But he did nothing! What is a father to do when paralyzed by guilt? How do you punish your sons for copying pages from your own book?
Although David was out of control, he was not out of time. True, some of David’s sons were dead, but he still had time to zero in on Solomon. David was not beyond the circle of God’s love. Solomon at this time was not a junior high preteen. He was a man with a family and in line for the throne. Even so, David had not taken his hands off Solomon’s heart—nor had God taken His hands off David.
Although David was out of control, he was not out of time.
David charged Solomon: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9-10). By this time, though, deep grief had taught him high values. With Solomon, David put some roots straight down through the hard surface of the fast lane.
About the time I hit my mid-forties, our children began to marry and leave us. I dreaded the rapidly approaching day when Chris, our youngest son, would leave home. Everything important to me was slipping into the past. The future seemed to have vaporized. Then our grandchildren came along. Hallelujah! Suddenly, everything important in life shifted to the future. I am more eager than ever to teach the ways of God to my sons and daughters and their children. Or to our grandkids. Or someone else’s. Carolyn and I grandparent dozens of kids besides our own. We learned this from David.
An old man, traveling a lone highway,
Came at evening cold and gray
To a chasm vast and deep and wide
That barred his way at eventide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
That turbid stream held no fear for him.
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And builded a bridge to span the tide.
“Good friend,” said a fellow-traveler near,
“You’re wasting your time in building here.
You never again will pass this way;
Your journey is over at close of day.
You’ve crossed your chasm deep and wide.
Why build this bridge at eventide?”
The traveler lifted his old, gray head.
“Good friend, on the way I’ve come,” he said,
“There follows on my path today
A youth who, too, must pass this way.
This stream, which was but naught to me,
To that fair-haired lad may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
Will Allen Dromcoole
Here the familiar poem ends—but it didn’t say enough to suit me. Our children grow up in the fast lane where roots are not automatically stimulated and where the challenges to their spiritual development are vastly different from our experiences. So I have taken the liberty to scratch a few lines of my own to complete the poem for our times:
When the youth arrived at the chasm wide,
He scorned the bridge which spanned the tide.
“That bridge is obsolete to me,
I have strength to leap the stream, you see.
“But from my vantage point,” he said,
“I can see that an ocean lies ahead
Which never presented its challenge to you.
So how can you help me see it through?”
The old man listened, then nodded his head.
“You have taught me a lesson today,” he said.
Then traveler and youth worked side by side,
Ripped planks from the bridge
which spanned the tide,
And from these timbers tried and true,
They fashioned a vessel to sail the blue.
Then, driven by winds from the heavens above,
They challenged the ocean together in love.
Things may not have gone well in your family. Possibly you have been out of sight, out of touch, out of control; but you are not out of time. Maybe it is not too late.
Step away from the computer and go make some phone calls. Circle around you what family you can. Sit down and say, “I know now that in many ways I have failed you. But could our family have a new start? We can still change the way we live. Let’s be family: father, mother, children and grandchildren for the future generations.”