“There is no power on earth
like your fathers’ love
So big and so strong as your father’s love
A promise that’s sacred,
a promise from heaven above
No matter where you go…
always know You can depend on
your father’s love.” (1998) “Father’s Love” Recorded by: BOB CARLISLE Composer’s: RANDY THOMAS, ROBERT MASON CARLISLE
I have a secret I want to reveal to you. But first…
The cover photo above is our young Japanese Maple in our backyard. One of the many talents packed inside my father-in-law was landscaping. In his backyard, he raised a tree to grow sideways. As you view it, the trunk comes off the ground vertically for a couple of feet, then with an extreme bend grew some five, or six feet horizontally to the ground. As your eyes would follow the great trunk, you then would see an extreme bend to rise upward toward the sky once again. The house was sold after he passed away a few years ago, so I do not have a photo of this large zig-zag tree trunk. It is highly unusual, but stunning. His daughter, my wife, has his genes coming out of her pores. As you can see in the cover photo, she is training a young tree to do the same as the tree she grew up with. If you can expand it, or zoom-in, you can see the stake in the ground, as well as a string pulling the lower trunk outward. It’s all outer space to me. She knows what she’s doing in this arena. One thing I do know, training takes time. Training takes endurance. Training takes the touch of love.
I was raised by a single mom. With the dynamics of my biological father, and a distant step-father who adopted me when I was six years old, I don’t have any good stories of great love from a father. Even my adopted father ended in divorce only four years after the remarriage. However, I can point to a plumb-line in my life who vowed earl-on to help raise me. He was old enough to have been my dad. He was only 42 when I came into the world.
Photo: My granddad, Martin Atherton (1918-2008)
My mom’s dad was a giant of a man. In stature he was only about 5′-9″ tall. Yet, his deeds, his love, his ethics, his words were from a heart of gold which only could belong to a herculean man of 6′-9″.
Martin Atherton helped to shape my thinking, even though I never lived under his roof, with the exception of a few short months in my toddler days. He was a blue-collar worker, master auto mechanic, who never wanted his kids to become a mechanic, as he thought the money wasn’t enough for the hard labor involved. His hard work was displayed in his rough, strong hands. Although soft spoken, he was a John Wayne type character. He would’ve done well in the wild west times. Oh, the novel I could write about this gent.
I will include the fact that he never once sat me down to lecture me on the Ten Commandments, the birds and the bees, or the “career talk”. He trained me gently by the sheer act of witnessing his life. He was a leader in his church, a respected man in his community, his workplace, and a man well-known for honesty, sealed with a handshake and a nod. His word was his bond.
Most of all, he trained me by my willingness to listen to what others would testify about him. Scores and scores of men and women spoke highly of him, as the countenance on their faces gleamed while the Martin Atherton soundtrack of the mind rolled out of their mouths. He was someone God would write about.
He trained me by seeing how he loved my grandmother, and how she responded.
Photo: Martin & Opal Atherton (1941ish)
He trained me by his love for America’s freedom, fighting in WWII while serving in the navy in the Philippines. He had two young sons, both under five years old, and one on the way, when he could no longer keep himself tied to the title of “citizen” only. He heard the urgent alarms of military service needed in the Pacific and answered the call at great risk.
He trained me to do all I could to respect and honor the president of the United States, even if policies and personalities were not personally agreeable.
He trained me to search to find the good in the individual, even if looking the other way at times seemed appropriate.
He trained me to love family, nucleus or extended family, even when greatly tempted to hate.
Example: Back in the late 1940’s he had a brother-in-law, my Great-Uncle Buster, who was physically abusive to his wife, my Great-Aunt Pauline. She once lost a baby when he punched her in the belly while pregnant with their first child. She never could have children afterward. This man was a severe hyper-alcoholic, to the point of drunken violent rages landing him in jail many times. He often caused havoc in their small farming community. At one family gathering in east Texas, this man showed up baked to the very bone with bottle in hand. It’s unclear just how it started, but the man caused a violent, profane stir in front of the family, including the children attending. As was the “bent” of my granddad, he tried to calm his brother-in-law down, but the sloshed man wouldn’t abide. Being a WWII sailor, my granddad knew how this would go. My granddad began to strongly encourage him to leave and sleep it off. During the altercation, my Great-Uncle Buster pulled out a knife with one hand and broke off the top of his whiskey bottle with the other. He charged at my granddad to stab and cut him open in front of the entire clan. Thank God he disarmed him and knocked Buster cold. He didn’t hold a grudge against his brother-in-law. In fact, years later, he trusted Jesus as he put away the bottle, sobered up and lived a peaceful, calm life on his farm until the day he died. In my growing up years, I never knew the “other” Uncle Buster, and I’m grateful. Throughout, my granddad showed love and respect for him, even though many did not.
He trained me to valiantly defend the home, family, and loved ones. It was his way to aid any and all, even if it meant personal loss. He was always looking out for the needy underdog.
He trained me to think and act with an abundance of generosity and benevolence.
He trained me to troubleshoot difficult circumstances, even if it was a painful road.
He trained me to walk closest to the curb when walking with a lady on the sidewalk.
Many pages could be filled about my granddad. Again, he was a soft spoken man with very little words, but with great deeds of a legacy to ponder. Truly, a salt of the earth gentleman.
There is a passage that’s always caused me pause. It comes from Solomon.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)
There have been many a commentary on just how to interpret this scripture. Some believe it simply means, instruct a child in the way he is bent while still pliable. Some say it speaks of training the child in the tenor of his way. A few will say this only applies to academia, in which Solomon was a champ. Another will say, instruct a youth about his way(s), common or uncommon. Some will say it’s concerning training in a specific trade inside a youthful life. (You might be a piano player, yet the child shows gifting in construction.) Some will teach it’s all about moral training from childhood. Sermons are built on the idea this passage speaks of training in the things of God, and His Law. While others will preach the meaning surrounds the training of the ways of the culture, the civility of the community one grows up in.
Personally, I think it’s possible all of the above options are accurate. Whatever the subject matter, not one child will be schooled if there is a lack of an instructor.
At the same time, we all can attest to the well-known fact that all kids do NOT grow up clinging to what they have been taught. Just ask most ministers with older kids. How can one say a young rioter deems it righteous to loot and burn down a place of business, if he was trained to honor and respect his/her neighbor? The other evidence can been found in generations of weeping parents. It very well could be Solomon was not “promising” a life of roses for all who were trained to observe righteousness and love. Much of Solomon’s own children were lawbreakers. For me, I believe the scripture pertains to a generality of the averages. Certainly the principle is there. I know my daughters were trained up to observe righteousness, civility, and ways of career and education. However, as adults, they don’t always abide by what I trained them to do. Regardless, they have my love and respect even so.
Photo: L-R: Tabitha, Megan, me, D’Anna (2015)
For me, the explosive word in Solomon’s text just might be…”Train UP…” The idea is, onward and upward for a better future, not the opposite. It’s always an advantage to have a grandson write about how great you are sixty years from now. Wouldn’t that be commendable?
The Japanese Maple in our backyard is being trained up with a bend in its trunk. Although we have plenty of winding, bends in our road of life, if trained well, we trend upward. My hope is that it will survive gravity and the Texas weather in the years to come. It takes a stick and a string for now.
Oh, yes. I mentioned I would share a secret with you. Here it is. My secret is, I have failed way too many times to even measure closely to my early training. When I get it right, I just consider it a special moment from above.
Training UP has a manual within the heart of fuel for the race.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,…” – Deutoronmy 11:18-19 (Berean Study Bible)