This Father’s Day, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a father like me — a conversation that all fathers need to face.
I had just finished giving a presentation to a large audience when a line of people formed to ask questions or give their input to the talk.
Then I noticed the desperate face of a desperate man.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
I shook more hands and answered a few more questions, and then as the crowd thinned, he and I were able to move to a private corner to grab a few uninterrupted minutes.
“My wife doesn’t respect me!” the man told me. “My kids don’t listen to me.” His face was shrouded in anger, the kind of anger that comes from pain. We settled down for a long conversation.
He was a retired Marine — and hew looked like one. He was lean and muscular and stared through me as we talked. We went through the usual symptoms of the problem until we got to the root.
He didn’t listen to his family.
“Man,” I told him, “if there’s one thing you can offer your wife and kids, it’s to listen. You can’t imagine how important it is to them that you hear them out. Don’t have a solution to the problem, don’t offer to help. Just listen and try to empathize.”
“I try,” he said, “but it’s all just so boring. My daughter goes on and on about who’s dating who. She talks about all her silly friends. It drives me crazy. I really don’t care. I sit at the dinner table and wait for it all to be over so I can turn on the TV and unwind.”
I paused. “You know,” I told him, “when I was a newlywed, my wife was traumatized because her jewelry store was burglarized. She went on and on about it.”
“In those days I was a cop in a brutal area of Los Angeles,” I added. “I averaged over one gun arrest and two felony arrests every day. I had to buy six watches in one year because mine kept getting shattered while I was fighting with some bad guy in a gutter or tackling some gangster in a parking lot. In my world, a jewelry store getting burglarized was nothing.”
“But as I watched her face while she told her story, I realized that she felt violated. Some bad person had broken into her store and taken some of her inventory. I listened intently to her because it was important to her. I don’t know why I had the wisdom to do that, but God gave it to me.”
To be a true disciple of Jesus, one must take a genuine interest in the cares of others.
“Who’s dating who may not matter to you — but it matters a lot to your daughter, and for that reason, you should give her your full attention. She’s developing her expectations of the man she’ll marry based on how her dad treats her — and that’s you. Are you teaching her that she’s important and deserves to be listened to? If you’re bored by what matters to her, she’s picking up on it. And she’ll carry that with her for the rest of her life.”
“You need to teach her,” I added, “that what is important to her is important to you, simply because it’s important to her.”
“Everything I just said to you ain’t bad marriage advice either,” I also told him. “You’re a Marine. I doubt that your wife doesn’t respect you, but I’m betting she doesn’t feel cherished by you. She doesn’t feel cherished because you don’t listen to her.”
About six months later, I spoke again in that city. And wouldn’t you know it: That same Marine came up to me afterward. I recognized him right away. He had the same desperate look in his eyes. “How’s it going with your family?” I asked him.
“Well, you know,” he said, “I tried to take your advice, but it doesn’t work. I try to listen, but my mind just drifts away.”
He seemed to want to settle in for another long conversation in which I’d give him advice that he’d then choose to ignore.
Instead, I stood up and clapped him on the shoulder. “If you want to take up my time again, make sure you know the names of all your daughter’s friends. And tell me all about them.”
I spoke again in that city again about a year later — and he wasn’t there.
We men understand that our responsibilities are to protect and provide for our families. Often, the most important thing we can provide is to make them feel loved. All too often, men listen for an assignment: We listen for something to do, or for a problem to solve. Yet sometimes, just listening and caring is all our loved ones really need.
To be a true disciple of Jesus, one must take a genuine interest in the cares of others. Things that wouldn’t normally interest us become interesting because they matter to someone we love.
As you examine your life in Christ, don’t look at the outside — at whether you’re following a certain set of rules. Instead, look on the inside. Do you take a genuine interest in what’s important to others? Do you pray daily for them? Do you authentically wish the best for them?
If not, take a deep look into your heart and ask God to help you to see others through the eyes with which He sees them.
He will answer that prayer, and the world will begin to look vastly different and more interesting.
This Father’s Day, I pray that God gives you and me and all fathers the patience and strength to really listen. I pray that He makes us fathers worth celebrating.