Things I Learned from My Dad

Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  I am happy to say that my world included significantly more certainty than that. My parent’s actions were always certain. I always knew how they would react in life because I knew where their priorities rested. After Mom’s death, I wrote a blog sharing things I learned from my mom. Sadly, the day has come for me to write a similar blog about Dad.

Dad was rock solid. He never wavered in his convictions or his relationship with God. I consider myself greatly blessed that God placed me in Dad’s care and tutelage. He is one of only two men who are responsible for the person I am today.

I had the fortune to be born when my parents were in their 40s. Because of this, I did not witness the formative years of their marriage, but watched the rock solid commitment and love between them that survives the test of time. Their age gave me the blessing of their example lived before me in gentle constancy.

When I began to develop this list in preparation for his passing, I was amazed at how each parent taught me such different, yet similar, values. Let’s look at what Dad taught me.

1.  Put your all into all you do.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 (KJV) Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Dad never committed to anything that he did not plan to do correctly. I watched him re-work projects, even spending money out of his pocket to correct unforeseen difficulties, just to ensure that what he was doing met his standards. He was never satisfied with mediocrity. I watched him repair “Section 8” apartments to the same exacting standard he used in his repairing the mayor’s house, knowing he would be returning to the same apartment to make the same repair within a few months.

2.  Anything worth doing is worth finishing.

Luke 14:28-30 (KJV) For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Jesus speaks of a builder determining whether he had the resources to build before starting the construction of a tower.  I do not recall Dad ever starting a project that he did not complete. They say that the plumber’s house always has a leaky faucet and an electrician’s house always has a bad light bulb. This was not Dad’s way. Even on his own house, he waited to start a project until he had the time and resources to complete it.

3.  You cannot do too much for God.

Luke 16:13 (KJV) No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Acts 6:1-7 (KJV) And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

God was Dad’s priority. I watched Dad help build two church buildings, but that was not his main contribution to the cause of Christ. While traveling through Arkansas a few years ago, I was surprised by the many pastors and church leaders who attributed some facet of their ministry to a past conversation with Dad. Every one of those who pastored him stated that Dad was a privilege to pastor. Dad always kept his focus on God, not on His surroundings. It did not matter the politics of the situation, or what his friends thought, for like Joshua, his focus was always to “serve the Lord.”

I included the verses about the choosing of the seven. I can easily imagine Dad being chosen had he lived during this time. He was a true servant that was quick to volunteer. He truly loved Jesus and wanted to live the life of a true disciple.

4.  Put all you can into your kids.

Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 20:7 (KJV) The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.

The simple fact that God was Dad’s priority was the driving force behind his focus on family. To Dad, family was a treasure not to be hidden away, but to be displayed for all to see. If his conversation was not about Jesus, it would be about his family. He loved to brag about his children and grandchildren.

Almost every conversation with Dad had three elements: God, family, and service.  He always wanted to be assured of my relationship with Jesus, the health and safety of my (his) family, and our service to God. Dad always encouraged me to do more. He wanted me to study the Word more, share Jesus more, be a better father and husband, and become a better writer.

Early in life, Dad not only encouraged me to follow my plans, but he took time to develop within me the skills of his trade. His thoughts were that if times ever became financially difficult, I would always have the building trades to fall back on for income. During this time, my thoughts were on the rudiments of building, but in retrospect, Dad’s thoughts were in developing character and teaching decision-making and problem resolution. During the several vocations I have been involved in, I cannot count the number of times that I have relied upon the thought processes that Dad placed into me.

I owe Dad a debt. I will lead my children and grandchildren to the foot of the cross and share Jesus with them. I will teach my family proper morals and teach them to become leaders. I will encourage them to serve God with their all just as Dad did. Dad supplied the foundation upon which God was able to build. Dad is the reason why I am what I am today. Yes, I have a debt to pay. I do so willingly and in his honor.

5.  Don’t hold grudges.

Ephesians 4:26-27 (KJV) Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.

Matthew 5:9 (KJV) Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Dad never sought to be a leader. In fact, most of the time, he tried to escape the responsibility of being given a title. That said, he never wavered in the fundamental definition of leadership; he always had followers. Dad was a man who did not esteem himself, yet others consistently looked to him for guidance. He was a gentle man who had learned to have a soft voice. His being forced into filling leadership vacuums on many occasions required that he have a thick skin. Dad had an ability to forgive an offense quickly. His focus was that of reconciliation. Many times Dad would need to take a principled stand regarding an issue. However, I do not recall anyone speaking a harsh word about Dad. He had an ability to keep a discussion about principles and not focus on the person. Even his temporary adversaries could not speak ill of his actions, and after the disagreement, the friendship would remain intact.

6.  Help who you can.

James 2:14-18 (KJV) What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Dad lived this principle. He was always willing to help. Many times, he would wake me up on a Saturday morning to go help someone. I remember one day that he took me to the Park’s house. They lived across the road from our church, and Dad had noticed that the limbs of one of the trees had begun to scrape the roof of their sun porch. We loaded the ladders and tools into the truck and went to cut the branches so that they would not damage the roof. He saw a need and wanted to be a servant. He would notice little things around the church building that needed repair. Again, our Saturday would be spent doing the repair. Pastor would walk in and find us working. Dad’s response, “I noticed … had been broken so we came to take care of it.” Dad was rarely asked to repair something at the church, for most of the time he had already noticed the need and did the work before anyone else realized that the problem existed. One time, an older couple in the church was no longer able to care for their yard. That summer, several of our Saturday mornings were spent mowing their yard. Eventually, the family realized the need and began to care for the yard. Dad proved his faith by his actions.

7.  Your word is the most valuable thing you own.  Don’t throw it away.

Matthew 5:33-37 (KJV) Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

James 5:12 (KJV) But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

This principle was second nature to Dad. His word was gold. If Dad promised something, he would do everything within his power to fulfill it. I only remember one time that Dad provided the punishment for my actions. He had caught me in a lie and it saddened him greatly. I also remember one conversation in which he had innocently given someone inaccurate information. Although the topic was trivial, when he discovered his mistake, he did not rest until he had contacted the individual to correct the information he had provided. It did not matter that the topic had been trivial, what mattered is that he wanted to be known as being truthful and trustworthy.

8.  No fight is worth winning if the other person is hurt.

Proverbs 18:19 (KJV) A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.

Matthew 18:6 (KJV) But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

1 Corinthians 8:13 (KJV) Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

Although Dad may have never realized it, and likely could not tell you who Hippocrates was, he lived by the oath that every doctor takes, “First, do no harm.” Dad would rather be taken advantage of, than to offend another person. I remember a wallpaper job that he and I worked. The customer had picked out cheap wallpaper. It had a border at “chair height” that was predominantly white. As the other papers were dark, the colors were visible through the white border. When the customer complained about the way it looked, blaming our workmanship, Dad replaced the paper at no charge. He lost money, but his reputation remained intact and the customer was satisfied. Dad could have easily placed the blame where it belonged. The customer had provided cheap wallpaper and asked us to do the impossible. They were at fault. However, Dad refused to fight with them because he understood that even if he had won the argument, he would have lost.

9.  If you do not stand on principle, you have nothing to stand on.

James 1:5-8 (KJV) If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Luke 6:47-48 (KJV) Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

Dad was more concerned with principle than opinions. He understood that opinions change, but principles should never change. He remained steadfast in his principles, even during the storm of adversity.  I was involved in a fistfight in my adolescence. Although he made me to understand that he was disappointed because I had resorted to fighting as a resolution to a problem, when he heard my reason and agreed with the principle behind the scuffle, he chose not to punish me. He insisted that violence was never a good answer, but expected that I would also be a person of principle. Truth was not a relative term to him. He lived by absolutes and expected that others should also.

10.  If you want to be king of your home, treat your wife like a queen.

Proverbs 18:22 (KJV) Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

1 Peter 3:7 (KJV) Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

Ephesians 5:25 (GW) Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.

No one ranked above Mom. He loved, cherished, and cared for her. While Mom willingly submitted to Dad’s lead, her displeasure brought immediate anguish to Dad. Being a strong man, he could withstand great pressure, except when it involved Mom. His primary focus was her happiness. I rarely saw Dad tell Mom “no.”

I never doubted his commitment to her. I also cannot recall any time when he took the side of a child against her. He never overruled a decision that she had made regarding her children. If he suspected that I was fishing for a better answer to a question, his first response was always, “What did Mom say?” He supported her in all instances.

In his later years, I watched him summon a reserve of tenderness, that was beyond what I knew possible, as he cared for Mom even when it was difficult. His personal pain was less important to him than her contentment. It frustrated him to be unable to fix the problem that loomed before her as she began to lose her memory.

He treated Mom like his queen. In return, I never saw her challenge his being king.

11.  Provide for your family in every way you can.

1 Timothy 5:8 (KJV) But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

As a youth, this principle was always exampled in front of me. I never realized how hard Dad worked to supply my needs and many of my wants. He put tremendous effort into providing for his family.  As a young married man, when things were tough, his encouragement was always, “You’ve got to provide for your family.” His priorities were always God and then family. Nothing else ever came before these goals. He worked to instill this principle into each of his children.

As I stated earlier, Dad shied away from the spotlight. He had no desire to lead anyone but his family. However, having studied many leadership resources, I would place him as an equal to many of the “leadership greats.” He never had the opportunity to study leadership as I have, yet practically every leadership principle that I have studied was embodied in his life.

I have filled almost seven pages with words. I could fill another seven pages and still another seven pages describing the important principles that Dad placed within me. It is with honor and deep respect that I write this blog.

Dad, I promise to live my life in such a way that will always honor your memory. I will always be thankful for the effort that you took to teach me the correct way to live.

I love you,

Mark

In memory of Bartes Elisha Alphin

January 20, 1921 – April 30, 2014

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