When I was a young boy growing up in Georgia, baseball was my life. I started playing baseball when I was four. I’d be at the ballpark a couple of nights each week for practice, another couple for games. And when I wasn’t there for practice or games, I’d be in the cages for batting lessons.
Obviously baseball was my favorite sport, partially because it was a sport my father introduced me to very early on in my childhood and because baseball is the great American pastime. Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, my father favored teams like the Baltimore Orioles and players like Brooks Robinson. My team was and always will be the Atlanta Braves. I endured the terrible teams of the ‘80s and remember the glory days of the ‘90s and 2000s. I looked up to guys like Dale Murphy, Sid Bream, Ron Gant, and Greg Olsen. And who can forget the best rotation in all of baseball with Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery? The 1995 season culminated in a World Series win over the Cleveland Indians. I was as proud and overjoyed as any fifteen-year-old could be in 1995.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because there was one person at the center of it all for me—my dad. Even if he was out of town during the week traveling for work, he never missed my Saturday games. During week night games he’d call afterwards and ask if I kept my elbow up or pulled my hands through the zone or kept my shoulder closed or kept my eye on the ball. He continually challenged me to get better as a player and as a leader on the field. More than any of the players I mentioned above that I wanted to be like when I grew up, I wanted to be just like my dad. He was the one man I looked up to more than any other. He was a deacon in our church. He was a genius businessman. He was a leader and a servant to my mother. And he was an incredible father. I chewed gum the way he did. I spit sunflower seeds the way he did. I parted my hair on the same side of my head as he did. I wanted to wear ties to church just like him. I had an immense amount of respect for my dad and looked up to him like he was a giant of a man bigger than anyone else in the whole world—this holds true to this day, even though I’m 9 inches taller than he is. Before my grandmother passed away she used to remind me often, “No matter how much taller you are than your dad, always look up to him.” And I do. I do every day.
Fathers play a special role in the lives of their children. I didn’t understand this fully until I became a father to twins just over five years ago. Bible verses like Proverbs 22:6 take on a much deeper level of significance when you have children. So do Colossians 3:21 and Psalm 103:13. Fathers have a powerful privilege of guiding their children to Jesus, and it’s one we shouldn’t take lightly. In the eyes of my father, my younger brother and I were little disciples whom he wanted to fill up with sound doctrine and theology. My father wanted to see his faith replicated in both my brother and I. He was steadfast in his approach, not by drilling us with Bible verses each day, but by being there for us, teaching us, shaping us, molding us. Of course, he always rooted everything he taught us in Scripture, so even if it was teaching us a lesson on the baseball diamond, it always came back to the gospel. My father was intentional.
Even more important than a relationship between a father and his children is the relationship between a father and Jesus—because that relationship defines the relationship between a father and his children. It will be the plumb line for which all fathers look to. I remember my father sitting in his recliner, putting on his glasses, turning on the lamp, and opening his Bible to read it at night as the rest of the family watched television. As I grew older, he was very intentional to find ways in which to instill biblical principles in me. He pointed me to Jesus, even though I didn’t know that’s what he was doing at the time. He was my guide. And even now, every so often, he peppers in little nuggets of wisdom and guidance for me that help me be a better husband and father.
This Father’s Day, I’ll spend the day with my wife and kids. We’ll head to church that morning, out to lunch afterwards, and then catch a Nashville Sounds game that night. And my dad will be with me for all three of those. His role as a father isn’t over. In fact, it’s even greater now, because he has grandkids that look up to him as well.
Pointing children to a life of joy in Jesus is one of the most beautiful things fathers can pass on to their children. I’m thankful my father chose to pass this on to me so I can pass it on to my children. In reality, it’s all rooted in discipleship. Now it’s my job to disciple my children the way my father discipled me.
Happy Father’s Day, Pop.