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When Dad says: “Don’t do life like I did”

Fathers and sons.  Is there any subject that is more complicated than that one?  Mothers seem to come equipped with some understanding of how to do the mothering thing.  But we fathers can be so clueless.  Sadly, we can be obstacles to our boys who are just trying to grow up.&…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Fathers and sons.  Is there any subject that is more complicated than that one?  Mothers seem to come equipped with some understanding of how to do the mothering thing.  But we fathers can be so clueless.  Sadly, we can be obstacles to our boys who are just trying to grow up. 
 
We wound them, sometimes terribly.  Some fathers tell their sons that they’ll never amount to anything.  Others are alcoholics and do things that leave them ashamed in the morning. 
 
Or we fail to communicate with them; or we try to re-make them in our image. Too often we want to correct the mistakes our parents made with us in their lives, so we swing the pendulum way in the other direction. We may coddle them or overprotect them. And too many of us tell them to get a job and play it safe when what they really need is someone cheering them on and asking them to take risks.
 
Stephen Covey captures the poignancy of this struggle in the following story of a father who realized that he’d set the wrong example:

I once visited with the commander of a military base who was truly on fire with his commitment to undertake a significant cultural change inside his organization.  He had been in the service for over thirty years, was a full colonel, and was eligible for retirement that very year. 

After he had been teaching and training his organization for many months I asked him why he planned to stay on and undertake such a major initiative – one that would require swimming upstream against the tremendous resisting forces of tradition, lethargy, indifference and low trust.  I even said to him, “You could relax.  You’d have a good retirement.  Award banquets would be held in your honor.  Loved ones and associates would celebrate you.”

He became very sober, paused for a long time and then decided to share with me a very personal, almost sacred, experience.  He said that his father had recently passed away.  When the father was on his deathbed, he called his wife and son (the colonel) to him to say good-bye.  He could barely speak.  His wife wept during the entire visit; the son drew down close to his father, and his father whispered into his ear, “Son don’t feel like I did.  I didn’t do right by your or by your mother and never really made a difference.  Son, promise me you won’t do life like I did.”

Those were the last words the colonel heard from his father, who passed away shortly thereafter.  But he regarded them as the greatest gift and legacy his father could have ever given him.  He made his mind up then and there that he was going to make a difference – in every area of his life.

Comments (6)

  • Good blog. I’m confused by the quote, however. Do you thinkn that Covey is saying the same thing you are… or is that the point?

  • The dad is saying, “I made a mistake in the way I lived life. I was too conservative. Take risks with your life and make it count.”

  • it sounds like he is trying to correct his mistakes in his son’s life. is he right for saying this, or should he just let his son live his life? maybe he is making it count? would you say this to your kids?

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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