Late Night On A Long Drive

 In Character, Community, Culture, Duty, Family, Fred's Blog, Identity, Relationships, Trust, Truth, Uncategorized

Listen to “Late Night On A Long Drive” by Fred Smith

 

As a boy I did not have much time alone with my father. The best opportunities came late at night on long car trips while the rest of the family slept. Dad loved driving in silence alone with his thoughts. But, sometimes when it felt right, I would lean over the front seat and ask a question. On that evening I remember even now I said, “Dad, what do you want me to be?” I suppose every boy wants to hear his father answer that question and it was especially true for me that night. At first, I thought he did not hear me because the pause was so long but then he said, “Son, it does not matter to me what you do but the kind of man you become. Above all else I want you to be honest.” With that I sat back and Dad drove on in silence.

Years later, as a teen-anger, several friends and I were dishonest and betrayed the trust of a number of people in our community. It was an embarrassment to our family but it was more than that to Dad. While all of the other fathers chose to either overlook what had happened or addressed the failure only within the family and then moved on, my father chose another way. He and I visited each person who had been harmed by our actions and I apologized and promised to make restitution no matter how long it took. Dad stood there with me even though I knew what it meant for him to risk his own standing not only as a father but as a community leader. He was not there to make me do this but to let them know that this was part of his own personal commitment to honesty. 

As I have watched men and women in places of influence over the last several years seem so comfortable with misinformation, lies, dishonesty, and betrayal I have wondered if they ever had a conversation with their father about what kind of person he expected them to be? Or were the conversations about being most likely to succeed, rising to the top of their field, personal and professional accomplishment with not enough attention paid to the virtues or character? Maybe their experiences were more like my friends whose fathers protected them from painful consequences while removing obstacles for their success. 

Men Without Chests

C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Abolition of Man” about the formation of not only reason and emotions but the capacity for stable sentiments. These are the virtues formed in the chest by teachers, parents and the elders. But were these things neglected along the way in their lives and substituted with the practical wisdom of advancement – even at the expense of their souls?

“They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda – they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental – and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”

And then Lewis concludes with this: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

I have not always lived up to my father’s simple request but it has been my guide even then. It is not a burden or a weight. They are words locked away in my chest. It has become the touchstone that has anchored me through many difficult decisions. As far as I know we never discussed that conversation again and that would be easy for me to understand. It was simply a moment late at night on a long silent drive. But maybe not. Maybe he remembered it for himself as well because he certainly lived it out to the day he died.

 

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  • Avatar
    Karen Jones
    Reply

    Thank you for these thoughts…
    and thank you too for the invitation to receive the Gatherings tech equipment and office ‘goodies’. We appreciate you remembering our ministry and we know the students who receive your refurbished equipment will be thanking you too.
    I also wanted to wish you all at the Gathering a wonderful future. I know that “breaking up housekeeping” is so hard to do. Its not a matter of what to keep or what to throw away – its all about keeping the memories, never forgetting the joy and challenges, and taking the experiences into new days ahead. I wish you all the best.

  • Avatar
    Kevin Jenkins
    Reply

    Fred,

    As I’ve told you privately (although not recently), I love your blog. It’s the only one that I read weekly.

    I vacillate between thinking that you understand the unique relationship between you and your dad, and then sometimes that you think it is normative. I’m reasonably sure that very few children have asked their dads, “What do you want me to be?” Maybe every child wants to hear the answer to that question, but few ask it out loud. It is a big deal that you actually posed this question to your dad.

    Having said that, most of us have blocked out the dishonesty of our teen years. Your willingness to acknowledge it all these years later is humbling. It’s a great reminder of the importance of grace. God is not finished with us at 15 years old.

    Blessings to you,

    Kevin

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Had God finished with me at 15 I would have lasted several more years than I deserved! I started my wandering early on. Kevin, I have never thought about how normative my relationship with Dad was. I have heard many men talk about their relationship with their fathers and there were always stories of hunting and fishing, etc. We did none of those. Dad had lost the use of his right hand as a child and that excluded those things. He traveled a great deal so maybe I had to imagine my relationship. I suppose the one phrase I do remember is “Wait until your father gets home!” Obviously, with as much as I write about my father I am still filling in the blanks and sorting through the pieces of the puzzle looking for those that seem to fit. I so much appreciate your encouragement this morning!

  • Avatar
    Joseph Wu
    Reply

    Thank you, Fred. Can’t say enough how much I appreciate you blog, week after week. Reading your blog this week prompted memories of my father who passed a few years back. Growing up most of my pre-teen and teen memories of dad were about how stubborn, how strict and how he lacked any empathy for my siblings and me. It’s always my-way-or-the-highway with dad. Yet one character that stood out was how he read scripture daily, how he was devoted to mom and our home church in service weekly, and how he was always generous to others – especially other believers in Christ. Growing up I resented this about dad, thinking of him as hypocritical and resented not having a dad that showed love for me by spending time with me, doing what I liked to do, and saying encouraging things I like to hear, etc. So now, having children of my own, I’ve tried very hard to be for them that dad that my dad was not. Yet, now that my children are reaching young adulthood, I’m not sure whether all my words and time spent with them would be remembered in later years. Or would they remember in later years whether I was devoted to scripture each day, served my church family faithfully, and demonstrated generosity with others – especially those in the family of believers. Will they think of me hypocritical, and will they in some strange way find themselves following the familiar footsteps of their father and grandfather. I can only wonder.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I discovered a Father’s Day card my oldest made and gave me when she was very young. On the cover is a drawing of me with two suitcases in my hand. I traveled all the time and I worried about how much that affected my girls. My youngest daughter called me “trip Dad.” Years later I asked them how that had affected our relationship and did they resent it. They told me it was okay because the did not feel excluded from my life even though I was gone. My father was very strict and I remember that but the older I get the more I understand him and how he grew up. Your kids will do the same when they are older. “Now we see in part but then we will see the whole.” It takes time but they will see the whole of you.

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