He was born into a poor family in rural Mississippi. Upon his birth his mother went right back into the cotton fields where she worked and placed him on the ground in a blanket beneath the shade of a tree that offered little comfort from the 100 degree heat and southern sun and humidity. He was vitamin deficient and and could not fend off childhood illnesses easily. At the young age of just seven, he was made to work in the cotton fields along with adults. Because of his lack of experience and speed, he was beaten mercilessly with the handle of a hoe until sheer adrenaline sped him up. He and hunger were good friends. He was familiar with the pains of an empty stomach. Cornbread and molasses was a welcome treat. Flour and feed sacks were his daily clothing.
They would pick 1800 to 2000 lbs of cotton that might yield 400 lbs after being processed. At the age of eight he was put to the plow and would work sun up to sun down. The nearest town for supplies was eight miles away-he walked, and many trips home were in the dark of night before electricity. At age 12 he would work for other area farmers for $1.00 per day, only after his normal work was completed. His dad was not a kind man and would beat him with plow lines at the slightest infringement. This went on most of his adolescent life. He survived childhood Rickets, Rheumatic Fever, heart murmurs, beatings and hunger. He knew no other life than this.
Perhaps by now you might assume I am portraying the story of a southern slave. I would never be so bold as to draw direct comparisons to their plight, even thought there are similarities in their stories. You may be surprised to find that this is the story of my Dad. It is a story of survival-it is a story of overcoming-it is a story of breaking a cycle through an amazing faith in a God many of us would have dismissed in similar circumstances. And its a story that none of us would have ever imagined as we grew up in our family as his children.
We didn’t learn of our dad’s history until just a few years ago. We were raised in a normal mid-western home and atmosphere. Dad worked for a truck manufacturer and we always had food on the table and clothes on our back. At 6’8″ he was a gentle giant who never unleashed his anger on us. In fact I can remember explicitly that it really hurt him to spank our butts when needed. Now we understand why. We were never beaten physically or emotionally-quite the opposite! We were blessed with loving parents who were engaged in our lives and who showed us their faith in God every day. We learned about Christ in church and saw him in action in our parents. So you might imagine the shock as my brother, sister and I learned of our dad’s harsh upbringing.
My dad asked Christ into his life at the age of eight and held to that faith until such time as he was able to leave home and all his past behind him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new! This surely must be true. We witnessed it without knowing at the time. We were raised and nurtured with all the love, the encouragement, the unity that any family could ask for. We didn’t realize it but we were the broken links of a chain from the past that had been ripped apart by the love and faith of an earthly father determined to be free from generational abuse, and a Heavenly Father who honored the faith of two parents living in His love and pouring it out on us.
My dad set a standard of fathering that I never reached with my boys. With full disclosure now as an adult to the life my dad overcame and the great distance with which he removed himself from his past, I missed the mark dramatically as a dad. Yet I work everyday, just as I did as a kid, to make my dad proud and to pass along something of his character to our kids and grand kids, three generations removed. I only wish our grand kids could know what a great man he is.
I’ve heard of sons declaring to their dads-“I can’t wait to grow up. I’m never going to be like you!”. Well, I’m grown up and I can truly declare, I will never be like him! Happy Father’s Day Dad!