I stood in his bathroom doorway early that morning watching him comb his hair. He didn’t see me at first. As I watched him picking through his hair with a determined look, I knew this was a moment that would be in my memory forever. I could tell he was excited and a little nervous about his first day of first grade. He was wearing a green golf shirt with the school logo on his left chest and cache shorts with a black belt and his new Air Jordans. He saw me, took a deep breath and asked, “You think my hair looks ok dad?” “Perfection my son!”, was my response. We got in the car and drove to the school. As he got out of the car and slung his backpack over his shoulders and grabbed his lunch box, he hugged me and said, “Love you. Don’t you worry, I’m gonna be all right.” He then walked into the school building with a couple of other kids.
I cried like a baby that morning. For the past 5 and a half years, I held, rocked and comforted him as an infant. I made sure the bites of food were cut small enough that he wouldn’t choke. I held his hand to steady him as he learned to walk. When he got a little momentum going, I walked behind him with my hands by his side as he rocked back and forth with each step. I dove after him one time as he stuck his hand out to a dog that was growling at this little stranger who was being so friendly. I remember walking with him out of Raymond James Stadium after the Cowboys lost to Tampa Bay. He was 4 years old and was proudly wearing his Troy Aikman jersey and two drunk guys started taunting him. It wasn’t my finest grace moment as I pounced on them in reprimand for scaring my little boy. I laugh at the thought of his grimace of displeasure as I greased him down with sunscreen from head to toe at the beach. As I drove away that morning, I thought about the moment in the delivery room that I first held his wiggling little slimy body. The moment I looked in his eyes and said, “I’ll always protect you.” (Excuse me as I pause to get a tissue . . .)
Protectors! Yes, our roles as men for our wives, children, friends and community. How many self-help books on fatherhood or being a good husband have we all read over the years? It’s been 30 years since Garrett made his appearance to the world. Seems like 30 years of constant awareness for me as a father. I remember the day he broke his arm falling off the monkey bars. The night his dreams were crushed in high school and the day I dropped him off at college and pulled away as I saw him wave goodbye in my rear-view mirror. Even today, if he has a setback personally, relationally, professionally or emotionally, and he gives me a call from his home in Los Angeles to pray, vent or even cry a little, I don’t think he knows how much I hurt when he might experience tribulation. Those times definitely keep me up at night. What he also probably doesn’t know is the fact that I definitely celebrate more than he does with his amazing accomplishments in life.
Being the family protector is a privilege but . . . it can be an incredible burden. Especially when we gauge our “protector success” on how well we do in this role by how well our kids do at life. I know, from my experience, as my protector mindset grew over the years, I developed an unhealthy nature of trying to control all outcomes for my family, especially my son. Yes, I actually went from trying to protect to trying to control. The more that trend developed, the more my frustrations, anxiety and stress grew, especially when those I was trying to protect may have failed, like it was a reflection on me and my effort, and it actually caused friction in a lot of my personal and family relationships.
Recently, I was in a group setting discussing men and our role in the family. One of the brothers was having struggles with his 15-year-old daughter’s experimentation with alcohol and sex and her continued struggles with depression and anxiety. It was the suggested by another in the room that his daughter’s failures were on him and might be a reflection on his lack of protector focus and his inefficient role as the spiritual leader of his family. “Maybe you’re not doing what the bible demands,” were the words given. I saw the troubled brother slump over in fear and dejection. Then the one guy actually told the group, “If our kids fail in life, that’s on us guys!” Needless to say, the brother with the struggling daughter has since left the group.
At Christmas time I always think of our protector . . . Jesus. I think of the savior Israel had on their minds who would come in on a flaming horse with lightning bolts shooting from his hands as he was to bring Rome to its knees and rescue his people from the oppression. It’s no wonder that so few took notice of this baby born in that Bethlehem cave 2000 years ago. At the time, this baby didn’t seem like a protector at all. In fact, this baby needed protection, and Mary and Joseph fled with him to Egypt to do just that . . .
My question for you all today. Brothers, how much do we focus on this role? Do we take pride in our protection of our kids and family? Does it consume you to protect so much that it has led to other issues in your own life? What happens when things don’t go as we planned? Do you feel s it looks bad on you if your children, marriage or family don’t thrive or they may screw up and sin or make wrong decisions? If so, maybe our focus on a role in our family’s lives can mislead us to the same type of performance management model we use if we try and handle our own sin . . . on our own. Maybe our role should be to focus on OUR protector and the purpose of His blood and resurrection. This most powerful event in the history of the world that saved (protects) us from sin and guarantees our eternal life with HIM. Maybe if our families see us focusing on our protector and his grace more, they themselves will be inspired and motivated to be just like us. Maybe if we trust our protector more with our families and watch how his Spirit moves to help them through this minefield of life, we will actually be washed more in His peace that goes beyond all understanding. Yes, we would walk freer than ever before. Maybe, this Christmas, if we focus more on WHO we are in Christ, a healthy protector mind and heart set will be a natural outflow of our identity as Christian men, that our kids, wives and friends will see and take note of one day. Then maybe, on that one day, when the rubber meets the road and our children have a key moment in life or reach a fork in the road with a problem or big decision, Christ will take over in them, because we let Him take over and protect us.
I look back on that time when Garrett took his first steps. How I always had my steady hands right next to him to help keep him up if he stumbled. Since I was born again, I like to think of my protector, Jesus, that way. The day I accepted his grace through faith I started walking with a stumble, his hands never left my side, guiding me, always ready to help me back up if I fell. I grew more and more in the confidence of His grace each day. I’ve found that the more I focus on Him, that my walk becomes more stable; surer footed with each step. Over time I walk faster, and faster, then I begin to trot . . . then run. Then, as I’m finally running, I noticed his hands aren’t right by my side anymore. “Wait a minute Jesus, where did you go?” I turn around to look for Him. Oh, he’s still there, but now his arms are raised as he celebrates my victorious walk . . . in Him . . . my mind renewed, my transformation guaranteed . . . in Him . . . In His Grace . . . MY PROTECTOR.