Like Father, Like Sons

  I attended three schools a year for a while. My dad was managing in professional baseball and decided early on that the family being together was worth the sacrifice, struggle, and difficulty of constantly having to travel and change schools, and the security of a “normal” home life.

Of course, I loved it. It was normal for me. Home was the clubhouse and the smell of pine tar, or the luggage rack on the bus where I would sleep as the team went from town to town. Home was watching my dad play cards on a cooler set in the aisle, covered with a towel to keep the cards from sliding off, holding a beer can in his lap. His there-ness far exceeded any inconvenience. How could anything else be an option?

After watching Bob Ross paint a "happy squirrel" and my sister and I trying to paint along—a kind of "paint by Ross" version of paint by numbers—I would take a quick afternoon nap and then head to the park with dad in time for batting practice. The nap was necessary because I would be at the park until about 11 o'clock at night.

I would hang out in his office, shag fly balls during batting practice, be the batboy for the game; occasionally I would see him get thrown out of a game for arguing with the umpire, or light up one of his players for some particular reason (usually disrespect of some kind, "This is a monologue, not a dialogue!").

Child psychologists would probably sniff their noses at my childhood, like dogs smelling meat, ready to pounce: “Children need stability!” Yes, they do, and the father is to be the anchor.

Secure as Sojourners

The Father’s children aren’t at home either (1 Pet. 2:11). Furthermore, our well-being doesn’t necessitate wealth, possessions, the best schools, or people who approve of us. What anchors us, why we are secure, why we are commanded countless times, “Do not fear!” is that the Father is with us.

See, it is easy to excuse your lack of there-ness with your desire to “give your children a better life” or “make sure they can get the best education.” Those are well-meaning desires, and a father should work hard to leave a good legacy to his children. We should plan well, save well, and block for our family like a bull-headed fullback paves the way for the tailback to get up field. That approach only works, however, if you are playing the same game, and if the goal is the end zone of our children knowing the Father—for that to happen, you have to be there.

I have never met someone who hated their father because he didn’t buy them a nice car; I have, however, met plenty of people with jacked up lives and relationships—with a degree from a reputable university hanging on the wall—because their dad was not ever home.

Paul Tripp tells a similar story:

“When I speak in churches, I often single out the men and challenge, ‘Some of you are so busy in your careers that you’re seldom home, and when you are, you are so physically exhausted that you have nothing to offer your children. You don’t even know your own kids. I offer a radical challenge to you. Go to your boss and ask for a demotion. Take less pay. Move out of that dream house and into a smaller one. Sell your brand new car and drive an older one. Be willing to do what God has called you to do in the life of your children.’

In a culture with two-income families, increasingly that challenge must also be made to women who also sacrifice family for career.

I made that appeal at one home-school conference and it angered a man in the crowd, although I didn’t know it at the time. Two years later he came over to me during a conference break. As he got closer, he began to weep. He said, ‘Two years ago I heard you give the challenge you just gave tonight and I got angry. I thought, What right do you have to say that? But I was haunted by your words. I thought, He’s speaking about me. My whole life is away from the home and I don’t know my own kids. I finally went to my boss one morning and said, ‘I want to talk to you about my position.’ My boss said, ‘Look, we’ve advanced you as much and as fast as we can.’ And I said, ‘No, no, just hear me, I want a demotion.’ The boss looked startled. He asked, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘The most important thing in my life is not this job. The most important thing is that God has given me five children. I‘m His instrument in forming their souls. But right now, I don’t even know my own kids.’

The boss said, ‘I’ve never heard this kind of conversation before and I’ll probably never hear it again. I’m very moved. We’ll find you a position where you can work forty hours a week. You can punch in and punch out and have less responsibility. But I’m not going to be able to pay you enough.’ I said, ‘That’s fine.’

We sold the house of our dreams, got rid of two luxury cars and bought a mini-van. It’s been two years now, and not one of my kids has come to me and said ‘Dad, I wish we lived in a big house,’ or ‘Dad, I wish we had new cars.’ But over and over again they have come and said, ‘Dad, we’ve been having so much fun with you. It’s great to have you around.’ Now, for the first time, I can say I know exactly where my children are. I know their hearts. I know what I need to be doing in their lives. I’m actually being a father.”

The Gospel is not a call to comfort. It is news that the Father wants to be with us and will sacrifice even His Son to do so. However, it is also a call to join the Father in what He is doing—saving sinners for His glory. He is not so concerned with our comfort, or our safety; He is not always concerned we are at the perfect church (His “school” for us); He is not losing sleep over how much He could provide us (for some, He gives great wealth, for others, just what they need to get by). He does, however, promise His presence is with us. Look at the shear tonnage of verses explicitly stating God’s there-ness and the context of the promise:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you . . . do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5,9)

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)

“Then David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.’” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The call is never to comfort. In fact, quite the opposite. The demands are great: Leading people into the Promised Land, building a great temple that foreshadows Christ, obeying a radical call to contentment with money, and making disciples of all nations. The anchor in these great calls of sacrifice, discomfort, and lack of security is the presence of God. We could have all the money in the world, the best education, the safest (and nicest) cars, and still drift out to sea, the weight of all that “stuff” drowning us—we need the Anchor.

Quantity Time with Your Children

Quality time is a myth; your children need quantity time. You are their anchor. Your there-ness makes them feel safe, loved, and cared for. Furthermore, your calling is to disciple them. This means they are to go with you as you do life. Your children are not some slice of a pie that can be compartmentalized from the other pieces. Your children should help you around the house and go with you to do chores, and you should let them watch you in life—how else will they learn? Certainly there are times of sitting down and reading with them or playing with them, but it cannot just be that. Whenever you can, bring them along. This is how we are instructed to teach them all that God has commanded us:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

This is the foundational text for discipleship in parenting. The Christian life is not compartmentalized from “everyday” life; it saturates and permeates all of life—and your parenting does as well. How can we be faithful to this if we aren’t there?

The Father sacrificed much for you to be in His presence. As fathers imaging the Father, we must sacrifice time with the guys, hunting trips, late hours at work, and time at the golf course so that our children would be anchored—not adrift at sea, being “tossed to and fro by every wave of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) or every swell the ideas and philosophies of this world ask them to surf in. It is our time, our there-ness, that they need.


Jim Essian planted The Paradox Church in 2011 and serves as Lead Pastor. The Paradox is an Acts 29 Network church in Downtown Fort Worth, TX. Jim played eight years of professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers organizations prior to planting a church. Jim and his wife, Heather, have two girls, Harper and Hollis.
[This is an excerpt from Jim's book, Like Father, Like Sons: Meditations on God as Our Father.]