I wish I had

A former NFL All-Pro defensive end for the Cleveland Browns, Bill Glass has a decades-old ministry that was built on outreach in prisons. One time the ministry developed an idea someone suggested — buy Mother’s Day cards, envelopes and stamps with donations, then set up tables in the prison where men could come by and write a note to their moms and address the card.

The line stretched on and on.

Great idea! Why not do it for Father’s Day? The materials were purchased, the tables were set up, the volunteers arrived … and not a single inmate appeared to send a card to his dad.

Years ago when I was studying motivational literature an opportunity came along to see master motivator Zig Ziglar. I’d read one of his books, listened to some tapes with his distinctive speaking style and then learned he was addressing a gospel singing convention in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Not having a ticket to the sold-out event didn’t dissuade me, so I made a pallet in the back of our station wagon for my son and daughter and headed north from Ellijay way before dawn.

Taking a break while cresting Newfound Gap in the Smokies, I could tell it was going to be a good day.

My son Joseph had earned money helping me mow yards on the side, so I knew he was going to the go-kart track — with the admonishment he kept an eye on his younger sister, Amy, who had been given a few dollars.

Before I had even scouted out the convention center a guy walked up to me and asked if I wanted a ticket. How much, I asked. Nothing, he replied, his wife couldn’t make it. A good day indeed.

Ziglar stunned us by saying his daughter had died of a rare disease just weeks earlier, yet he still felt compelled to appear. But quickly he turned to father-son relationships and mused out loud, “Why is there that awkwardness between fathers and sons at times, or with some, all the time?” He related his own experience, and how difficult it was until years later to hug his own son and say, “I love you, son.”

Isn’t it true? There’s no problem telling a daughter — it’s sort of like telling your wife or mother. But with a son it’s different. Sometimes it’s hard to hug a son, or step-son, and say, “I love you.” Why?

A son grows up in the shadow of his father, but eventually the pull of manhood forces him to break away. We often look at that inevitability as a time of rebellion, and there certainly can be elements of that in a child as he or she accepts and/or reacts to authority as they grow older. In my case there was a lot of rebellion, and no doubt at all that as the firstborn child my actions put a lot of gray hairs on my parents’ heads. But since I made the decision to return to my spiritual roots I could hug my late father and say, “I love you, Dad,” with ease.

Ziglar told the story of Glass that day, who has worked one-on-one with tens of thousands of men in prison. One hundred percent of these incarcerated men hate their fathers, Ziglar said Glass discovered. He found that in Florida, where 40,000 men were incarcerated around 10 years ago, only 13 were Jewish. Ziglar said the ratio, which can be corroborated in other prisons, can be explained by the actions of the attentive Jewish father anytime he greets his son: “They say, ‘Bless you, my son,’ ‘I love you, son,’ and then they give them a big ol’ hug, no matter how young or old.”

Although Ziglar said he worked and golfed with his own son, it was always a firm gentlemanly handshake when they met. But that was before he heard Glass speak and “made some changes.”

“A COUPLE OF DAYS later (my son) and I were out playing golf, and then we finished and came back to the house,” he described. “He was moving his clubs from my car over to his and I said, ‘Son, I gotta tell you something.’

“He said, ‘OK, Dad.’

“I said, ‘Son, I don’t know why, but over the years — for whatever reason — I’ve quit hugging you and telling you how much I love you. Son, I just want you to know I love you very much. You’re very important to me.’

“With a tear in his eye he said, ‘Dad, I know that.’

“And I said, ‘Yeah, I know you know it, Son, but you need to hear your dad say it.’”

From then on, the senior Ziglar said, he hugged his son upon meeting him — whether in a restaurant, on the golf course or in the corporate ballroom.

Ziglar then spoke forthrightly and said if statistics were correct, 16 percent of the men in the audience had been abused — verbally, physically or sexually — by their fathers.

“If that has happened to you and you harbor those ill feelings, even hate … I encourage you, I plead with you — forgive your dad,” he implored. “If it’s practical and convenient, go see your dad and say to him, ‘Dad, I feel like you wronged me terribly when I was a child. But I want you to know I forgive you completely … and Dad, I want to ask you to forgive me for the attitude that I’ve had.’”

Then Ziglar landed it with a deft touch.

“Men, I can tell you this with no fear of error — one of these days you will say one of two things, either ‘I wish I had’ or ‘I’m glad I did …’” he related. “The reality is if you have been abused or mistreated they have done serious damage to your past. Surely you don’t want to give them permission to damage your future. The choice … really is … yours.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dads! And if you still have the opportunity to make amends with your own father, my prayer for today is that God in heaven will grant you the will and the power to do it.

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