How conversations with my father have shaped my faith

July 9, 2018

My father doesn’t rest easily. As an engineer and a devoted multitasker, he always has too many tabs open while working on two different screens, looking at excel spreadsheets, email, and news at the same time. Even in his free time, something has to occupy him. He’s usually deep in Scripture, working on the next Sunday school lesson, or attempting to conquer the world in the video game Civilization V. He still can’t sleep without the television on.

I will freely admit that I have acquired this restlessness from him. So, as one might expect from two similar people, sitting in the living room and hanging out is almost never quiet or still. Instead, I’ll bring up something on the news, or he’ll bring up the newest devotional he’s been writing or the newest podcast either of us have been listening to. So begins a conversation, which might start a discussion, which could lead to a debate, which may even turn into an argument. He’ll counter my interpretation of a certain verse or accuse me of saying something that is “fake news.” Or, I’ll mention a differing perspective from an article I read last week or question the relevance of one of his points. We sometimes interrupt each other and increase in volume, but eventually, we end with something we agree on, or at least agree to disagree on. One of us will get thirsty, get up to grab some more sweet tea, and the conversation will end.

At this point, these conversation-discussion-debate-arguments have become a ritual in my house. We always circle back to some new facet of Scripture or piece of political outrage and start anew the next day. My Dad has described it as the search for what is rock and what is sand, hammering away at different foundations. I always liked how he put that, as an engineer who looks for the best place to build a house.

Chipping away at one another

While I enjoy his metaphor, however, I do not follow in my father’s engineer footsteps. I still have plenty of engineer in me, but I approach things from more of a humanities-oriented lens. I see our conversations less like house-building and more like sculpture. To me, it’s always been less about chipping away at different foundations, and more about chipping away, in a sense, at each other. The Renaissance artist Michelangelo, when describing his own work and how he made such beautiful feats of art, offered the simple explanation, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”

In these conversations with my Dad, I’ve not only seen my knowledge increase, but my faith strengthen. They have, in so many ways, been the guardrails on the road of my walk with God and have implemented Deuteronomy 6 in our family. Moses, immediately after giving the greatest commandment to love God and love one another, tells the Israelites: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7-9).

I realize conversations like these aren’t for everyone. Whenever the conversation gets too contentious or repetitive, for example, my mother will commonly leave the room. We rarely get angry with each other, however, during the course of the conversations; we just like seeing ideas go at each other. But, it can sometimes sound less like my Dad is obeying Deuteronomy and more like he’s disobeying Ephesians, where the apostle Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Pointing to the Father

The distinction can occasionally be hazy, but I see the difference very clearly. My father has never made it difficult for me to imagine God as the perfect Father. My Dad has never provoked me in such a way that the image becomes distorted. He is not God—far from it—but the way he speaks and acts make it impossible to miss the fact that God has, and continues to, work in his life. It’s prepared me for college and for my later life as a whole.

Not everyone is blessed to have a dad like I have. We live in a fallen world where many fathers do provoke their children to anger and many more aren’t present at all. That’s why I believe we have an urgent need for Christian fathers—fathers like mine who stand up for, and when necessary, against their children. We also need fathers in the fatih who fill in the gaps that many familial fathers have left. There’s a brand of encouragement a father provides that’s nearly impossible to replicate anywhere else. In addition, the role gives awe-inspiring opportunities to serve as an example of Christ.

The medieval Portuguese playwright Gil Vicente once wrote that “the pursuit of love is like falconry.” It requires circling, a daily ritual of flying back, and returning, and returning, and returning. Likewise, my dad and I continue to argue, debate, and pit our ideas against each other and the occasional bit of fake news. It’s a ritual that shows our love for one another in a form specific to us. I may take after my father and rarely rest easily, yet, thanks to his efforts, I know I walk well. And I always know where to return to.

Benjamin Ball

Benjamin Ball is a member of Princeton University’s undergraduate class of 2021, where he studied English, with minors in African American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Journalism, History and the Practice of Diplomacy, and Values and Public Life. He was a Managing Editor and Head News Editor for his school’s … Read More