When I was in fourth grade, I had a scuffle on the school playground and was sent to the principal’s office. I remember few of the details of that day, but I do remember a deep sense of shame. I hadn’t lived up to the Gaston name. I was the third Gaston to attend Welby Way Elementary School, and my two older brothers had set a pretty high behavioral bar. I doubted that either of them had EVER been sent to the Principal’s office, and I dreaded my parents’ disappointment in me.
You just learned a lot about my mom and dad. They succeeded in the mission of every parent – they created a loving dynamic in our home that inspired their four boys to do all we could to make them proud, and to dread ever letting them down.
Now it’s my turn. I’ve been a father for 24 years, and a grandfather for almost three months. I am the proud dad of two amazing young women, and the obsessed grandfather of the cutest baby boy on the planet. What kind of father am I, and what kind of grandfather am I going to be?
In his devotional book Pierced by the Word, John Piper gives me something to shoot for. He tells the story of John G. Paton, a missionary from Scotland in the mid-1800’s, whose godly and prayerful father inspired him to think “He walked with God – why may not I?”
In his autobiography, Paton describes the day he left home to begin his studies in Glasgow. His father walked with him for the first 6 miles of the 40-mile walk to the train station, encouraging him and praying for him every step of the way. When they reached the parting point, his father offered one last prayer and word of encouragement, and young John walked on alone. At the next corner, he turned for a final wave goodbye, then rounded the corner and stopped by the side of the road, overcome with emotion.
I hope I never forget his description of what happened next. “Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return, his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me.”
I learned years ago, as does every parent, that I can’t control my children. But I can influence them, and in fact I will influence them, by the way I live out my faith in front of them. My commitment to godliness is no guarantee that they will respond the way John Paton did, but along with loving their mother, it is the best gift that I can give them.
What kind of father and grandfather do I want to be? The kind whose kids and grandkids can say, “he walked with God, and he made it look so good that I want to walk with Him too.” Would you pray for me to be that kind of man? I will gladly do the same for you – in fact, I’ll be praying about this on my next Sabbath hike, so let me know if you would like to be included in that prayer time.