Author and speaker Josh McDowell had an incredibly painful childhood – and a dad who was distant due to alcohol addiction. As Josh was growing up in a small town, his dad was the town drunk – and everybody knew it. Josh was embarrassed and said he hated his dad so much, he wanted to kill him.
The anger festered a long time, until Josh accepted Christ as his personal Savior. "God's love took that hatred, turned it upside down, and emptied it out," Josh later wrote. "I looked my father in the eyes and said, 'Dad, I love you,' and I really meant it."
Some time passed and his dad came for a visit. "It was one of his few sober days," Josh remembers. "Dad paced nervously around the room and finally blurted out, 'Son, how can you love a father like me?' "
Josh replied, "Dad, six months ago I despised you … [but] I have placed my trust in Christ, received God's forgiveness, and invited Him into my life. He has changed me. God has taken away my hatred, and now I love and accept you just the way you are."
His father listened and chatted warmly and finally said, "Son, if God can do in my life what I've seen Him do in yours, then I want to trust Him as my Savior and Lord."
Josh says his father's conversion stuck.
Be the Dad You Want to Be
Whether because of divorce or distance, a man who has had a difficult or nonexistent relationship with his father isn't doomed to repeat the past. Regardless of your circumstances, you can be different from your father. To break the chains and be the dad you want to be, you'll need to identify those chains and then be very intentional about getting free from them.
For many, you will need to get professional help. The wounds and difficulties run deep. Serious issues require external intervention. If that's your situation, I encourage you to immediately seek out a caring and credentialed Christian counselor who can walk you through the issues of a troubled relationship with your father.
For most men, healing is possible with some honest soul-searching, thoughtful reflection and hard work. Let me suggest the following steps as a starting point for you to learn to break the chains of poor parenting so you can become a great dad:
- Assess the baggage from your past.
- Begin to address your parenting issues.
- Change your ways, every day.
Let's unpack these three practical points.