[Editor's note: the following is an excerpt of What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him, by Byron Yawn (Harvest House Publishers, 2012). Used by permission.]
What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
There are specific moments with every man when he looks around at his life and observes who he's become, or begins to wonder at what could have been. It's a box of pictures formerly hidden by clutter pulled from a closet. An hour passes. Tears are shed. It's okay. You're not crazy. I won't tell. It's normal to reflect upon the significance of one's life. Especially those that span decades. Things accumulate—family, kids, careers, etc. Time flies. Babies grow up. It's healthy to think deeply about who you are and what you've accomplished. We should do it more often. A survey at the midway point of a legacy can reveal much about a man. Good and bad.
We're All Doomed! How's My Hair?
In more intense forms this type of introspection goes by its more popular name—a mid-life crisis. A man approaches the hazy midpoint of his life and is struck by the speed of time. He starts counting his remaining years on his fingers and panics. Some buy Harleys. Some get hair implants. Some make life- and family-altering mistakes. The shock can be overwhelming. There's no rewind button. There's no going back. "We're all doomed!" Take it from me—it passes. Get back to life. Besides, the minivan is more logical.
There are some men, however, whose entire life is a mid-life crisis. Such a man is caught in the constant cycle of reinventing and restarting. There's a search for purpose that takes him through several iterations of himself. It's the assumption that a different situation, position, or endeavor will bring the life he desires. Stops and starts. The vestiges of "great ideas" are all around. You get the distinct feeling he dislikes himself as much as he envies others. It's a secret regret. His wife—who serves him as a life coach—doesn't understand it, but she lends her support. She loves her husband no matter what he does. But this does not seem to help matters. He spends his entire life living up to some mysterious standard set on him somewhere in the past. The discontent is palpable. You hurt for him.
His work and career serve only to remind him of time wasted, missed opportunities, and the inability to be something he's not. It's a ceiling on life. He's certainly not where he saw himself being. Obviously, we all have seasons when we struggle with the tedium of jobs. Even those who enjoy what they do. But his issue is different. There's a naïve assumption that being who he wished he were, or having the dream job, would solve the restlessness in his soul. Even when he does get the change of employment or promotion he eventually falls back into discontent. His enthusiasm fades. Someone needs to tell him the real problem was not in a box of pictures.
I Need to Get This
Then there's the exact opposite creature. He's defined by his career. He doesn't languish in what he does. He thrives in it. He's good at it. You've seen him. As you stand in front of him, he has his left index finger on his Bluetooth earpiece and his other hand (palm out) in your face as he closes the next deal. He mouths, "Just one second. I need to get this." He is a career. You see him in church and say to yourself, "There's that salesman." Not "There's Jim." Or "There's Bob." What lies in his wake is not missed opportunity (like the first fella), but his family. He's got everything the first man thinks he needs, but at a steep price.
His wife and he come to see me. Sitting in front of me during counseling, their back-and-forth may be the most frequent conundrum upper middle-class couples find themselves in. They went and got their priorities caught in success. She says, "I only want him to be home more often. When he's home I want him to leave work at work." Her confident estimation of the real problem comes with a smug look. She adjusts her tennis bracelet in anticipation of his answer. "I do what I do so you can have the life you have." He rolls his eyes upward, then looks at me. "There's no winning. You see what I have to live with?" I never answer that question. Abruptly, his finger rises to his earpiece. "Sorry. Hold on. I need to get this." She rolls her eyes back. I hurt for them. I think fondly of my wife and kids.
Too many men are identified by their careers, or lack thereof. Some flail about looking for one that will give them meaning. It won't. Others, over time, become better salesmen than they are fathers or husbands. They know their clients more intimately than they know their wife and kids. In each case, there's an imbalance.
Forgetting What We're Doing
While Doing What We Must
What most men never come to realize, or are never told, or forget, is that they already possess a calling and purpose. One that surpasses the specific industry they're in or job they have. It's given to them by God, their creator. It is tied to who they are as men and not the particular thing they do. There are priorities that God has called them to, responsibilities that are inherent in their persons, passions imbedded in their masculinity, and commitments intrinsic to their roles as men. There's no need to search for these. They're built-in. These are larger than specific careers. Awareness of these greater realities gives the day-to-day its more sustainable meaning.
Point is, we forget what we're actually doing while doing what we have to. What is work anyway? It's not who I am. I may be a salesman, doctor, or teacher, but that is just a means to an end. It's what I do. Who I am is a husband and dad saved by grace. One simply provides the opportunity to do the other. When we confuse the means and the end we inevitably fall off one of these two edges—a want of meaning or a misplaced identity. If my greater desire is to be successful rather than faithful, I'm in trouble. It's the greater reality that keeps the other in proper perspective. As a man, you have to be gripped by the greater to survive the latter. You must keep the means and end separate.
I absolutely love being a dad. Maybe it's my particular context that makes me so intense about it. Maybe it's not abnormal to think this way. Maybe it's the way it should be. Maybe it's the way all real dads feel. Regardless, I love it. In no way am I a perfect dad. I'm still learning and adjusting. It's challenging. After all, I have a teenage daughter—the equivalent of solving a Rubik's Cube in pitch-black darkness during a typhoon. Seriously, I don't get it. But even this I love. The responsibility of being a guiding force in my kids' lives overwhelms me.
Every day I live I'm thinking of them. Praying for them. I know them and fear for them. It's a dark world out there. More than once, like many other dads, I have been found on my knees next to their beds weeping for their souls and praying for their futures.
Men are created to be on their knees beside the lives of their wife and kids. It's part of God's design. Other creatures (wives and children) are designed to depend upon this trait in us. It's imbedded in our makeup, part of the structure of the relationship between husband and wife and an important part of how we bring glory to God as men. It's not simply finances and material resources we provide. What we supply is much greater than these things. We offer hope, trust, love, stability, guidance, service, and all those intangibles that come with our roles as fathers and husbands. And these are the realities that give our lives more meaning than careers ever could.
I Think They Got It
The other night my sons attended a professional hockey game. It was a guys' night out sponsored by their school. The headmaster, several of the male teachers, and other dads escorted a group of elementary-aged boys to the game. Such madness. God bless them for doing it. After they returned home my youngest son was visibly disturbed. I could see it. He had met a new friend. At some point during the game my son's new friend disclosed his family situation. It was not good. His father was gone. He did not have one. As my son put it, "His dad did not want him and left. He is now remarried and has three other children. He never sees him."
My son, who is eight, could not make this make sense. With a very innocent level of clarity he understood the injustice. It was deeply distressing to him. "How could a dad do that?" Unfortunately, there's not an easy answer. Unfortunately, it's far too common a scenario.
In that moment I think my sons, both of them, at least for that moment, got it—how blessed they are to have a dad. (Not perfect, but present. Not perfect, but engaged.) Their reaction to this young man was similar to my mom's reaction to her own lonely little boy so many years ago. It's a hard reality to deal with.
The response in my son was love and warmth toward his own dad. He clung to me. Later he asked if he could sleep in his big brother's room in the lower bunk. It was as if he prized more highly and was drawn into more closely the bond of family and brotherhood. (It could also be that he used the situation to manipulate his dad. But that is beside the point.) He asked if we could pray for this young man. So there we were; dad, mom, brother and son, on our knees praying for the unique presence of a heavenly Father in this kid's life. We gave thanks for our own family and closed. I did my usual round of hugs and kisses and then walked out with tears in my eyes. That is what I live for as a dad. It's who I am. I get to be there for these boys. No one has to pity them, or cry over them as statistics.
If you took me back in time thirty minutes from that moment on my knees with my family and told me what was about to occur—how God would bless me with some of the most sincere love a man could ever experience, how I would have a chance to leave an indelible mark on my son's tender heart—if you took me back and offered me ten million dollars to miss it, I would turn you down every time. Because there are things more valuable than money and careers. Truly priceless. There are a thousand little priceless moments all around us. You only have to pay attention. You only have to love the looking. Your ability to be there in those moments has nothing to do with your career, or lack thereof. Your kids never see that stuff anyway. You're just their dad.
[Taken from chapter 17 of What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him, by Byron Yawn (Harvest House Publishers, 2012). Used by permission.]