There is often a point in a person’s life that one perceives as the “turning point” in their journey. Part of being a father is making sure you’re there for your kids when they reach that point—because of the two roads that diverge that day, one is usually preferable in the long run, and kids need a wise voice in their lives to help see the right path. This is true even if they choose a path you wouldn’t, because eventually they may have a chance to switch roads and your wise words way back will mean even more after the fact—hindsight being 20/20 for prodigal sons and daughters.
My turning point came in college. This is not surprising to most that have entered those supposedly hallowed halls of learning, only to discover that college is often a string consisting of video games, all-nighters, pizza, parties, and all forms of goofing off known to man. I’m sure it’s a fact that all sports that have no real point or goal have been invented on a college campus, from Hacky-Sack to Frisbee. Juniors and seniors often relate the meaning of the word “sophomore,” to their younger plebes, gloating that it means no less than “wise fool.” If this were the case with any second year student, it was with me, especially the second part.
One weekend that year demonstrated my foolishness in living color. My parents were leaving town with my brother and I was commissioned to come home from college and housesit for them. This was an important job for several reasons beyond just getting the mail and feeding our many animals on our old farmland. My father’s mother lived with us at the time and even though she lived in an independent apartment attached to our house she still needed a little bit of attention. I was paid for the weekend to go get her paper down at the main street each morning, and then spend a few meals with her, while also checking in on her throughout the day—doing things she needed done as a sick and elderly woman alone.
As many 19-year-old guys faced with the opportunity of hanging out in a large house with no strings attached, my wheels started turning. I made every endeavor to reassure my parents that I’d do the job well, and then I planned privately to take my college girlfriend down to the house and have a romantic dinner together and possibly watch some movies as though we had this great house to ourselves. In the hubbub of picking her up from the school an hour away, and taking her back, I basically did none of the jobs I had committed to do. The animals went unfed, the mail stayed in the mailbox till the last day, and Grandma got all her papers at once on the final day. I visited her for only brief moments when coming in and out of town. I dropped the ball—big time.
Now this was a poor showing by me, for sure, but many fathers would have written it off as simple “stupid college guy” antics and kept the promised money to make a point. Instead, my Dad sent me the wad of cash inside a six-page letter. The letter confronted me in the strongest language possible, and put the question to me simply: “What path will you choose?” He explained in that letter that my head wasn’t screwed on right at that time and that I was going three or four different directions with my life and needed to decide to shape up and become a responsible man. He phrased it all in that peer-fathering tone he’d begun to use since I was 17. He was not only disappointed in me, he was shocked that I would do it all without a thought of my own irresponsibility.
Putting the Question
I was so full of shame and guilt from that confrontation that it forced me to look inside myself for the first time in several years. Dad likely saw this confrontation coming, noting little issues in his head that pointed to a path in my life that was not the best. But he never mentioned anything until that letter, and he poured it all on in one confrontation, saying, “You don’t have to respond to this letter with me—but you do have to respond with your life. Which path will you choose?” He apparently knew that being Dad on purpose means confronting your kid when they take the wrong path.
Shortly after the letter from Dad I broke up with that girlfriend for good, threw myself into my college studies and got a job. And a few months later I experienced the most solid calling from God on my life that I’ve experienced. It was a turning point. Two paths diverged in the wood—and Dad was there with his wisdom compass. But more than just being there, he knew how to confront his kid in a way that made the turning point a permanent one.
Questions to Ask Yourself or a Group of Other Dads:
- What turning points did you have in your life when you were younger?
- At what age do you think most people reach that turning point?
- What are the signs you’ve seen that a kid needs to turn their life around?
- How can a father help that transition happen?
- How can you be ready to confront your kid at that pivotal moment in his or her life?