Dad, I hope you read this. This is one of your favorite stories to tell whenever I ask you to preach in my absence. And, by the way, Dad - thanks for everything. You're the greatest dad, pastor, husband, and man I've ever known. I love you.
Whenever someone tells me that I look just like you, Dad, I bark back an answer that sounds just like you. I always say, "I keeping hoping I'll grow out of it." Thanks for giving me a sense of humor. But in all honesty, I hope I do look like you. Not just in physical appearance. But in my whole person. On with the story!
There are several things my readers should know to understand the whole story. This is the part Dad always leaves out when telling it. I must plead my case, you understand.
First, I was ADD before ADD was invented. It certainly wasn't excusable. Back in those days, your parents just grabbed an ear and twisted, or slapped the backside of your head. If that didn't work, they applied a few solid reminders to your backside. Second, church pews didn't have cushions in those days. It was bone on wood for a solid hour. And finally, it was Andy's fault. He was my best friend. He folded a bulletin into a paper football and thumped it at me first!
But I was the one who got caught. Dad was behind the pulpit preaching his heart out to the good folks of First Baptist, Bevil Oaks, Texas. Andy and I were playing paper football. I scored. As everyone knows, when you score a touchdown in paper football, you get to kick an extra point.
Andy made a goal post with his fingers and thumbs on the sitting part of the pew. I held the pointy end of the paper football up with my left index finger and thumped the ball with my right one. It not only cleared Andy's finger-goal-post, it cleared the top of the pew, too. Dad saw it.
He stopped preaching. I stopped breathing. I didn't want to look toward the eyes of wrath, but I did. Yep. They were looking at me. Through me. They were reading my future. I heard more from Dad's eyes that morning than from his sermon. Those eyes said, "Son, you're getting a whoopin' when you get home."
For the rest of the service, I tried everything short of walking the aisle and getting saved to make up for my transgression. But I knew that extra point was going to cost me dearly.
I ran home after church and looked for a hiding place. The toy box was too full. The shelf in the closet was too high. Under the bed was too obvious. But I ran out of time and ducked under the bed when I heard Dad enter the house.
He didn't even look for me. He spoke with voice and belt simultaneously. I heard, "Perry, come to my room NOW!" The leather belt slapped loudly against each belt loop as he ripped it out. It was like the low-humming music in a horror movie.
I crawled out from under the bed, walked toward my dad's room with my head hung low, completely surrendered. Dad was sitting on his bed with belt in hand. He said, "Now, son, this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you."
With one last desperate plea, I cried, "Couldn't I just cry and save us both a lot of pain?"
I missed the point. The point of discipline is not pain or tears. It is correction. I confused the reason for discipline with the results of discipline. Obviously, this wasn't my first rodeo. I'd grabbed my ankles a few times before. Okay, so it was more than a few.
Dad didn't want to make me cry. He loved me and wanted me to respect him. More importantly, he wanted me to respect God. I thought crying was the purpose of this exercise. Just like we often think the trials and disciplining we go through in life is meant to torture us and make us feel bad.
I knew my Dad better than that. I should have known that what he was doing was for my own good. We ought to know God better than that, too. God isn't mean or evil. God is good. God wants only the best for His children. So He disciplines us when we choose that which leads us astray or could harm us.
God sees the snake in the tree coiled behind the apple we reach for.
"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in" (Proverbs 3:11-12, NIV).
Thinking I should've bought Dad some suspenders for Father's Day after this incident...
I love you, Dad,