My oldest son Marcellus used to be chaplain for several sports at a large university, and one evening I was listening to him talk to a group of pro athletes. He was really challenging them, saying, “Guys, you gotta have purpose.” He pointed at me and told a story that I had forgotten.
It was when ‘Cellus was sixteen and had just started driving. He said, “Dad, I’ll drive anything,” so I bought him an old Mercury Sable for fifty dollars. It only had two hubcaps, so Marcellus put them both on one side so the car looked better when he pulled up to his girlfriend’s house.
I was driving a Volvo, and one day he asked if he could borrow it for a certain event. It was raining, so at first I said “No,” because he hadn’t learned to drive in the rain yet. But he prevailed on me and I tossed him the keys. As I think about it, that’s probably what my Pop would have done.
Wouldn’t you know, he wrecked my Volvo that day. And when he got home, according to him, I raised my voice and really laid into him. “Did you have your hat on backwards? Was the music up loud?” I went through the whole litany. Then I put my finger in his face — even touched his nose — and I said, “Marcellus, you are a leader. You need to clean up your act and quit jackin’ around like your buddies …” Something like that.
I’d probably be ashamed of myself if I went back and relived that moment today. But get this: my son looks back at that night as a turning point. That’s when he looked in the mirror, shed some tears, and decided to grow up and take things more seriously, and live with more purpose.
So what’s the lesson here? To raise your voice and get in your kid’s face as much as possible? Certainly not. A better truth to take away from Marcellus’ story is this: We never know the huge impact our words have on our children. So keep speaking truth into their lives, like scattering seeds.
I heard this great quote from Pastor Jentzen Franklin, and I think this illustrates what I’m talking about. He said: “Speak to the king in your child, and the king will rise up! Speak to the fool in your child, and the fool will rise up.”
If I were to ask about your dreams for your children’s future, you’d talk about something that reflects high achievement and success. You want them to make a difference with their lives. You certainly don’t want them to be drifters, criminals, or anyone else that might be categorized as “fools.” Instead, you want them to be “kings.”
So then, the question is, How do you reflect those hopes and dreams in the way you talk to your children? Do you snap at them about little things? Do you ever assume the worst when you’re talking to them? Then there are the dads who say things like this to their children: “I knew you couldn’t do that.” Or, “How many times do I have to tell you …?” Or, “Why can’t you ever do it right?”
In Pastor Franklin’s terms, that’s speaking to the fool in your child. And really, why should we expect anything but foolishness out of our children when our words and our tone of voice have already presumed that they are that way? Speak to the fool, and the fool rises up.
But how different it is when we assume the best of our children—when we express confidence that they can and will improve their behavior; when we praise their effort and their perseverance; or when we set high but attainable goals for them. We’re giving them self-confidence for the future. We’re instilling in them the ability to achieve their potential.
Speaking to the king in a child takes a long-term perspective. You remember you’re raising someone who will some day earn a living, be a husband or wife, raise a family, serve in the community…. Those are all noble pursuits, and your fathering today can have that future in mind.
You see, even when you don’t realize it, your words can speak purpose into the lives of your children. Challenge them to greatness. Call forth vision and purpose in their lives. Love them fervently. Nurture their passion.
Carey Casey is CEO of the National Center for Fathering and author of Championship Fathering. More about Carey.