Archive for the ‘Fathering’ Category

Boys to Men

I was at the lake yesterday, watching some young boys do what they do best – drive their parents crazy.

Bouncing, running, jumping, yelling, tripping – parents think in terms of vectors and tasks, while boys have limited interest in predictable patterns.

It can really mess with your head sometimes.

In the midst of those years, it can seem endless. You wonder if this whirling dervish that was once so cute in his crib will even survive into adulthood, let alone become stable and productive.

This week – this morning – one of my sons will be baptized. He’s a young man, he has made his own decisions regarding the footsteps of faith. He earned his biggest-ever paycheck this week and the pride in his face made my heart leap for joy as well. He is responsible, thoughtful, and observant toward others. He chooses friends wisely. He was the one that, as a toddler, I predicted would end up at some extreme end of the scale – he had a very high pain threshold and was not particularly fastidious about self-preservation.

He grew up. Your boy will, too.

Watching two young hellions driving their father nuts yesterday, I had to remind myself that they would be men too, in very short order. It happens. They’ll be trading little plastic army men for razors and lifeguard whistles.

And you’ll feel a pride swelling in your heart that you never anticipated. “That’s my boy!” the voice will echo in your mind. And he always will be your boy.

Even when he’s his own man.


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Today is Father’s Day. Five young men call me “father,” and it is an honor to have that title, however imperfectly I fulfill it.

We all have earthly titles. At work, you may have earned the title “Senior Manager,” or “Executive Director.” In the military, you may be a Master Sergeant. If elected in a free society, you may be granted (for a season) the title Representative; or, in a dictatorship, the ruler may appoint you to be Vice President of Propaganda (wait – that occurs in lots of places!)

These temporary and shifting titles identify us in our roles, but they don’t really define our essence. What enduring and unchanging titles do we possess?

Sadly, in the framework of naturalistic evolution, there is only one title: “_______” Our only significance can be whatever temporary importance we assign to ourselves during this random and ultimately meaningless existence. As a species, and as individuals, we are, ultimately, a blank.

Of course, every particle of our being rebels against this notion. It is an alien thought process, self-imposed against the undying sense that we are very significant, and our individual lives matter very much. While our minds may reject God, deep in our souls we are fully that our title cannot be “_______”

In Jesus, God calls His believing people sons and daughters. We are princes to a sovereign king, a title freely given to unworthy subjects by a gracious and wise Father. We are Beloved, the Bride of Christ.

Even those who don’t yet know Christ are profoundly aware that they are special, because the image of God is stamped upon us:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

(Psalm 8: 3-5)

Instead of living as vice-regents, we choose the slavery of sin. Jesus put it this way, in John’s gospel (8:34-36):

Truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

We will never be satisfied with temporary earthly titles. We will never rest when there is a “________” after our name. We are made for much higher titles, by a Father who knows all, sees all – and loves those who have abandoned their inheritance. The Father who welcomes back His prodigals who return to Him in repentance and faith.

The Son can set you free to live in the most important title of all this Father’s Day – son or daughter of the King.


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The Starting Point

To my sons –

You started as a hope in our hearts. Your mother and I were meant to have children, and God placed each one of you in your mother’s womb so that we could love you and give you the best start possible.

And so we have tried. Failing many times along the way, but seeking to show you – to live before you – a life of godliness and faith. With a fair bit of earthiness mixed in!

Now that you’re older, you look around and you realize how much brokenness there is among your peers. You understand that a good start matters – a lot. Take this life lesson along with you:

There’s one sure way to arrive at the right destination. Pick the right starting point.

If you want to set a record sailing across the Pacific, you don’t launch out from the shoreline of New Jersey. Where you choose to begin pretty much determines where you’ll end up.

And it’s that way in all of life.

You didn’t choose to be born, nor did you choose all your early influences. But now, as you start moving into adulthood, you have choices to make about your personal starting point. With each year, Dad and Mom let go more and more. With each year, you take growing responsibility for your own direction. And all that we have sought to teach you comes down to this one starting point, this one heart-commitment that will make or break you in the future.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Personality, abilities, knowledge, friends – these things can move you along the current of life. But they can also move you into inexorably toward the reef, if you decide that you’re smarter than the God who created you. For a time, living without God and without wisdom might seem fun. But if the bright skies and fresh breeze of today are heading you toward a typhoon tomorrow – and you choose to turn off the forecasts and the navigational aids in favor of another beer before the shipwreck – what have you accomplished?

You will seek your own pleasures and fear the displeasure of your friends. Or, you will seek the pleasure of God. Two very different starting points. Two very different lifestyles and outcomes. No middle ground.

Half-belief is unbelief.

Now, your friends may consider you a whack job for giving up a self-directed life of sin, and starting over from a place of humility and wisdom. But if you are to be a true friend to them, you will show them godliness, and a better starting point, rather than drifting downstream with them toward destruction.

Real men stand with God, even if that means standing alone. And with the fear of the Lord, and the grace of Jesus, you are never truly alone. You have a Friend who stays closer than a brother.

I’m sure we failed a thousand times in giving you the best start. But it’s always been our goal that you boys would not merely follow us, but far exceed us.

Get started.

Love, Dad

(Image credit)


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Twenty-two years ago today, he emerged – bluish-grey, not breathing, making his feverishly-paced entrance in the world via emergency C-section.

Nate was our first-born, and for a first-time Mom and Dad, it was a scary and shaky start.

Now we sit together with a beer and watch college football games on Saturday afternoons. And for someone who had a near-death entry into life, Nate turned out pretty normal (I say “pretty normal” because he is, after all, a Woodruff)!

As a first-born governed by inexperienced parents, we had our rough patches, of course – one main reason being that he was wired with a creative soul, and his practical and structured parents took forever to understand that he lives on a different wavelength. First it was music, then it was film…tangible evidence of his giftedness. Nate’s creative ears and eyes emerged early on as his strong suit.

As parents, you become keenly aware of each child’s makeup – weaknesses and strengths – and as Nate got deeper into the teen years, a new and surprising strength came to the fore – a growing ease with people. Neither of his parents are particularly outgoing, but Nate (and his next-in-line brother, Dave, now a Marine) both became very easygoing with people. Generous, tuned-in, and fiercely loyal.

Yes, parents are to teach and mold their kids. But then you find out that you’re destined to learn from them as well. It’s a secret bonus.

Now, we have adult conversations. We’ve come to understand and respect one another in deeper ways. For Dad, standing beside a grown-up son while grilling and shooting the breeze is immensely rewarding. At 2 and at 7 and at 12 and at 17, it’s full-on shepherding and supervising. I wasn’t the most relaxed Dad at the time. But now, it’s time to fire up the smoker in anticipation of his birthday party, and smiling at the thought of his company. Because I not only love Nate, I like him, too!

Happy birthday, son!


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One of the viral pieces of news this week was the tongue-in-cheek site Please Rob Me, underscoring the potential consequences of broadcasting your location (such as, not being at home!) too broadly on social media. You know, inviting bad guys to break in while you’re Four-Squaring at the mall…

Well, right now I’m more concerned about a different kind of digital invasion. Namely, as parents – how do we encourage the responsible use of digital media by our kids while preventing “screen addiction?”

We still have 3 boys at home – 2 teens and an 8-year old. We have TiVo (so glad to no longer be subject to broadcast schedules and commercials!) and Netflix on-demand; a family iMac with all the usual web destinations a click away; a Wii; and each kid has an age-appropriate handheld device.

We’re really not big TV watchers, and my kids aren’t sedentary couch potatoes, but let’s face it – all this stuff can be an endless parade of sight and sound that is an easy default (instead of, say, walking the dog, exercising, reading books – all that boring analog stuff!).

Even Dad has to be reminded at times to put away his iPhone (ahem!).

Now, we don’t want to be rigid and spin out all sorts of rules and timetables and impossible-to-enforce schedules, but at the same time, we need to build SOME fences around this stuff so that it does not overwhelm us entirely. For instance, on the iMac, each child has an account, with a preset time allotment of one hour per day. But that’s just one of the digital conduits!

I’m betting all of you who are parents are struggling with this. How do you handle it (apart from, say, moving to Lancaster County and joining the Amish)? What’s working for your kids/family? Have you figured out strategies to allow healthy use without feeling like you’ve walked onto the set of the Invasion of the Family Snatchers? Please share in the comments!

(Image credit – no, not my kids, but very cute!)


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Those three words are still echoing in my mind and heart. They only brushed past my ear for a few milliseconds today, but the vibration of them continues, an acoustic double-espresso of emotional energy.

“Love you, Dad!” Tossed over his shoulder as one of my adult sons headed out.

A simple phrase, really. Easy to tune out or even brush off. Until your kids grow up, that is.

Thinking back, the “I love you’s” flow easily when the kids are young. Then they get older, and it’s not so cool to say it. What was once taken for granted dries up, replaced by the silent hope that it’s still true. The unspoken is now taken for granted.

You get used to silence after a while – uncomfortably reconciling yourself to a season of affections assumed, though your ears miss the words even as your eyes interpret the almost imperceptible gestures. You were there, once, some years back – you know how young men keep it in check. Especially when their budding independence comes up against your not-quite-so-confident-anymore leadership.

Then, as they leave the cocoon into the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood, their parents seem to undergo a metamorphosis as well. No longer a mere “bad cop” figurehead at the helm of a prison ship, or some retro dunce from another planet, those parents transform into human beings again.

Mom and Dad again.

And every “Love you, Dad!” rings that much louder. Makes the moment that much brighter. Means more than the young man can possibly know.

Fame, titles, riches – they all have their place. A pretty distant second place, overall. Every “Love you, Dad!” is pure gold.


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As my boys morph into teens and then into young men, some rather obvious – but still hard-learned – life truths keep coming to the surface.

Love is given – from the moment of that first positive sign on the pregnancy test, to the seemingly endless night feedings, to the crashes and pimples and (much bigger) crashes of growing up, you’re loved because you’re…you. Period.

Approval is conditional – what is wrong and stupid and dangerous does not become acceptable because you’re loved. And love doesn’t free  you from the responsibility to grow up and measure up. Disapproval is a fact of life. Walk in wisdom, go all-in, and you’ll learn whose approval matters – and whose does not.

Respect is earned – accomplishment, achievement, character development – that is how you earn the respect of others. No shortcuts. Respect is not the puff-up of flattery; it’s admiration that comes with a price tag.

Ideals co-exist with reals – every person you meet, including the one in the mirror, has flaws. Life isn’t always fair. Give up on utopian expectations, but never give up on ideals. Leaders pursue what is higher; nobility is in the striving, not the attaining.

You’re a part, not a whole – we all have a few things that we can do really well. Many of the people around you have stronger limbs, sharper eyes, more nimble brains, and bigger hearts. Learn to give and receive as a part of a community; don’t build up walls on your own island.

Since all of that is true, pursue your highest goals, fail enthusiastically, and inspire others. That’s my New Year message to young men, or to anyone else who needs it!


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