Millions of Americans will celebrate the man who raised them on Father’s Day, June 17. Millions more will regret the broken relationship, the absenteeism, the sober reminder of the heartache their father caused. How do you forgive the one who ignored, hurt or confused you? Perhaps more importantly, how do you not become that man? If thoughtfully considered, this weekend could become not just a celebration of birth, but a renewal of hope.
My grandfather, ‘King,” was every man’s best friend, particularly when he was buying the drinks. He was a hard working, hard drinking, reckless gambler. His son Edwin was deeply wounded by the hedonistic lifestyle of his dad, confused by the mood swings from loving times together at football games to the screaming tirades of a foolish drunk. Though deeply scarred by his father, my dad became a best-selling author and one of the most globally-respected men’s speakers in the world.
How does a man forgive his dad? How do we leave that behind and become the father we really want to be? That answer may change and shape the destiny of someone you know, or it might apply to you. Here’s why—it was in the act of forgiving his father that my dad became a good dad to me, leaving a legacy for my sons and their sons.
Forgiveness is the essence of love. Love is the desire to benefit another person, even if it costs you something. Selfishness is a mark of immaturity. Immature men remain childish, self-centered, indecisive and inconsistent. Maturity doesn’t come with age, it begins with the acceptance of responsibility.
To overcome a selfish dad requires accepting the responsibility to forgive him. Maturity is the ability to make a right choice even when the emotions or context would cause you to make the wrong choice. Decisions have consequences. Mature men choose to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it’s an act of love.
My dad taught me that everything in life is under my power of choice, but when I make the choice I become the servant of that choice. To choose not to forgive is to put one’s life under the power of unforgiveness. What you don’t forgive will never be released from your life. What you choose to forgive no longer has power. When you forgive your dad, what happened to you way back when no longer defines you.
My dad, Edwin Louis Cole, is known as the father of the Christian men’s movement. He spent his life teaching men how to follow the principles of Jesus, to be faithful in their marriages and with their children. He became a mentor to millions of men around the world, yet he also knew what it was like to be without a father figure. And he knew what it meant to fall short as a father himself.
His father, “King,” was the result of a brief relationship between a man who bailed, and a single mother who tragically died. Raised in an orphanage, he spent his life pursuing the affirmation he had never received as a son, first in the military and then in his job and by chasing pleasure. My grandmother faithfully took my dad to church, but my father -- looking for his dad’s approval -- eventually did what most boys do and followed his dad’s path.
Fortunately, though my father followed his father’s pattern, he could not outrun my grandmother’s prayers. He returned to the God of his childhood, forgave his father, prayed with his dad just days before his father’s early death, and then led his young wife and family to love God as well.
My dad still made many mistakes. I played all kinds of competitive sports from childhood through college years, but Dad came to fewer than five of my games. Ever. On the other hand, he worked hard to overcome his father’s pattern throughout his life. Once, he took me on a week long horseback camping trip, which was the highlight of my teen years. Dad was a lifelong learner and eventually became a great dad, one who was able to teach other fathers.
A slightly scuffed autographed baseball sits on the bookshelf in my office. It’s priceless. Being a sports lover, I’ve seen Reggie Jackson hit homeruns, Ted Williams bat, and other greats like Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax play in-person, and much more. I have memorabilia from just about every sport, but this baseball is tops. It is the result of a hot, windy, dusty season in the north Texas heat. The team lost some games and won others; got frustrated, laughed at goofy stuff and had fun. Two of the signatures on that priceless baseball are what make it so valuable, because they were the coach’s sons, Brandon and Bryce—my boys.
As my children grew up I built a successful business and traveled constantly. I had watched my father’s regret at missing my games and determined I would not follow suit. I put my children’s activities on my calendar first and gave them the same priority as my biggest client. I was never the greatest coach, certainly not the greatest dad, but I was one thing—I was always there. Today my children are leaders in their community, faithful friends and vibrantly healthy men and women. They are my joy.
Ten years ago, my dad left this earth, but he left a legacy far different from the legacy left for him by his own father and his father’s father. I have the privilege to build on that legacy. Dad never got it exactly right, and neither will I. But I have forgiven him of his mistakes just as he forgave his dad. I am definitely following my father’s pattern, as he once followed his father’s example. But the blueprint is entirely different today.
No guy I know is going to stand up and say he’s the most awesome father around. But each of us can do our best as we accept responsibility to forgive the past and pay attention to our current relationships. As dads, we don’t have to be awesome. We just have to be present.
Paul Louis Cole is President of the Christian Men’s Network Worldwide and Founding Pastor of C3 Church in Dallas, Texas. Paul resides with his wife, Judi Cole, two boys and found grandchildren in Southlake, Texas.