When I was 12 years old, I gave my dad this plaque on Father’s Day.
It had a picture of a grown man walking with a little boy, hand-in-hand. The angle of the photo caught them from behind so you couldn’t see their faces, leaving their expression up to your interpretation. But the words at the bottom said it all:
“The greatest gift I ever received came from God. I call him…Dad.”
Ironically, I gave that to my dad as we were about to enter a very challenging season. As my body changed and I moved from a boy to a man, my dad had a clear expectation about what young men do:
Namely, they play sports. They’re athletic. They’ve got game.
But I didn’t.
I tried, though. Hoping to make my dad proud, I played my heart out, especially at his favorite pastime: baseball. But in spite of his insistence that I could do it, I could not.
Sure, I reached a certain level of competency. But athleticism was not built into me at a genetic level. No amount of encouragement, training, or trying was going to alter the fact that I would never be a great athlete.
What I did find was love for words.
Especially words spoken in front of people. From the time I was a little kid, it was absolutely clear:
I was born to help others shape their thinking through the shaping of my words.
One day, after a few years of struggle between us, my Dad saw it. He saw what God was doing in me, and then he realized what God was doing in him. Dad was still supposed to be my coach, but not of baseball!
His newfound calling was about coaching me in mine.
And this combination was potent.
Dad started showing up at events where I would speak. He would encourage me and help me think differently— think better. He talked me through complex ideas and challenged me to see different angles.
In the process, Dad and I began to love each other not just because we were obliged to as father and son.
We began to genuinely love being together.
There’s no one on earth I’d rather spend time with than my dad (other than Susan, of course). Dad is incredibly fun to be with. He always shows up. He’s always there to help. He’s always willing to get his hands dirty. When we go on vacation, we always want Dad to be with us, regardless of the destination. He’s generous and kind. And he’s the most encouraging person I know.
He taught me everything I know about being a good dad.
And he frankly still has more energy than I do!
We also can talk about anything, including difficult subjects where we don’t necessarily agree. And, critically, we share an absolute commitment to our faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is the most important attribute of our relationship.
I don’t know if the plaque I gave my dad when I was 12 was prophetic. I’m sure I meant the words then, but there was no way I could fully grasp their implication.
At 50, I think I can now. These words mean more to me now. They’re not hanging on the wall anymore, they are engraved on my heart: