“You are one of the very few people I really believe is a true Christian.” A man in his early 30s said this to me yesterday. “You actually live what you tell others. You are genuine and I respect that.”
This man and I have only visited a couple of times before over the past month. Practically strangers, he trusted me and listened to my advice on matters ranging from faith to family. How did it happen so quickly and deeply? Most importantly, how can a father get his child to listen to him, to respect him, and to take his advice?
That wise old king, Solomon, sought the attention of his sons. “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.” (Proverbs 4:1). Apparently, he’d heard the same message from his dad, David, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words withal your heart…” (Proverbs 4:3-4) Getting your child’s attention is key to everything else, so how is it done?
Do you recall who Solomon’s parents were? King David was his father, but who wasn’t his mother the woman Bathsheba, who’d been married to David’s bodyguard, Uriah? It was a clandestine relationship that had begun when David slept with her as Uriah was on a military mission. She became pregnant with David’s baby and David had Uriah murdered in battle to cover up the embarassment. The baby died within a short time after being born, and David marries Bathsheba (How very noble to care for the grieving wife of your loyal bodyguard!). God steps in, tells the Prophet Nathan what’s gone on behind closed doors and David is caught red-handed. From that point, David was never quite the same man he’d been before, except, perhaps a more honest, humble, and genuine one.
David, in Psalm 17 wrote, “Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips.” Again, in Psalm 18, he wrote, “The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.” Wow! David seems pretty proud of himself, doesn’t he? Note his confidence as the started that Pslam, “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.” But all of this was pre-Bathsheba and pre-Uriah. His tone turns much more humble later in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from sin. Surely, I was sinful at birth. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Murder, adultery, and dishonesty had replaced integrity, faithfulness, and righteousness, and the reality of it broke David’s pride.
Imagine if David were your country’s leader or even more if he were your dad. Personally, if I were his employee, I’d be hiding my wife and shopping my resume! Solomon grew up in the post-murder home of King David. If I were his son, I might resent how his actions had tainted made my life more difficult because of the whispering and bullying in the schoolyard. Ironically, Solomon doesn’t do this at all. In fact, Solomon aspires to be wise, just as David and Bathsheba are asking him to. They have his attention. He listens to them. How did they do it?
It started when David came clean before God and the prophet Nathan. He admitted he was flawed. He could have continued the ruse, but he didn’t take the path of a cover-up, and that is huge. Instead of holding on to the false narrative, he stopped it, humbled himself, and got back on track. Though no parents are perfect (Solomon’s or your child’s), kids can respect those who are honest, humble, and genuine. I believe there are three elements present in Solomon’s respect for his father and my young friend’s respect for me: honesty, humility, and genuine integrity.
Now, it is important to understand that it takes all these traits to gain your son or daughter’s respect. Had David merely admitted, “Yeah, I did it,” but not humbled himself to God, Solomon couldn’t have respected him. I mean, we much more readily forgive and accept the ax-murderer (which is actually pretty close to what happened to Uriah) who admits he committed the crime AND is repentant than we do the guy who just grunts, “Ok. You got me. I killed him. So what?” David clearly regretted his mistakes and people around him knew it. He changed after that. His songs are more humble; his thoughts of himself more realistic and less self-righteous. Even as Absalom rebels, the once confident warrior David is hesitant to lift a hand to kill again. He is a different man in so many ways, and Solomon grew up in the household of this kinder, less dominating, more genuine father who was less interested in empire building and house construction than in the years before. During Solomon’s youth David became more interested in his family, and we know it because Solomon wrote, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, he taught me…” No wonder Solomon listened to David.
In antithesis, arrogant Absalom despises this same father. He rejects his authority and makes it his personal mission to undermine and defame his dad. Absalom loathes David, though David clearly loved his son VERY much. The reason for Absalom’s distance is clear, David had been dishonest, proud, and pretentious at a poignant time in Absalom’s life – the rape of his sister, Tamar. After Solomon’s oldest son Amnon, rapes his half-sister Tamar, David does nothing. The Bible only says that he was furious. He got mad and fumed about it, but took no public or private actions. It is left to Absalom to decide how to handle the matter. It is Absalom, not David, who takes in the heat-broken young Tamar and comforts her. David isn’t recorded as taking any action against her rapist either, but, it appears, he simply seems to look the other way – pretending it never happened. David won’t look. Amnon doesn’t care. The public doesn’t know. So, the royal family’s shortcoming is kept an ‘in-house secret.’ Of course this smacks of a cover-up and David is shameless in allowing it. Absalom is wounded in his heart and as his disrespect festers, his relationship with his dad develops into a slow gangrenous death. Absalom could not – would not – listen to or respect a man who behaved like this — even if that man was his father,
If you want your son to listen to you, don’t don the façade of perfection; be honest. This does not mean you share with your 12-year-old or 25-year-old all the sordid details of your life. That could be harmful more than helpful. It means you live a life that is honest about its short-comings. (Not excusing them, but admitting them.) The young man that respected me told me that right after I had said to him, “I don’t know all about God’s mind. I’m not him. I just know what I’ve experienced with Him. I’m still learning.” You don’t have to know it all, or be it all! You DO have to be real. Genuine though flawed is better than great but fake. David lost Absalom’s ear because he wasn’t genuine. Absalom viewed him (accurately) as a pretender. In the home where Absalom grew up, David was the “I’m righteous before God” guy (Psalm 17). However, in Solomon’s childhood, David was the “I was born a sinner” guy (Psalm 51). Solomon heeded David’s words; Absalom seethed at them.
If you want you child’s ear, be genuine. Admit when you are wrong. Show yourself to be humble, and above all have genuine integrity. A hypocrite is never admired and children know the realities of home. They will listen and give you respect, even if your life (like everyone’s) is flawed when that respect is merited by a life proven worthy of it.