RLL 36--Lessons from Dad

RLL 36--Lessons From Dad

Today is Father's Day, and as such I wanted to share with all of you the introduction to my e-book (Extra)Ordinary Leadership, which is written about my dad, as well as the list of 10 Things Dad Taught Me Without Saying Anything.

These are lessons that Dad lived and that I observed and have tried to also live out (though, admittedly, I have failed more often than I have succeeded). They form guidelines for how I try to treat others and how I try to lead. I hope that you are encouraged by them and inspired by them. I also hope that they cause you to remember with fondness lessons that your father or father-figure taught you. Happy Father's Day!

My father, John Wesley Hawbaker, was an incredible leader: educated at Illinois Wesleyan University (B.A.) and the University of Georgia (M.A.), he also went through the US Army Officer Candidate School, US Army Airborne School (where he won the Outstanding Leadership Award for his class), and the US Army Ranger School. He was a member of the famous 82nd Airborne Division, and he won three Bronze Star Medals for his service in Vietnam. 
He also was a businessman, an ROTC instructor, a college professor, and a civic club volunteer. Most importantly, he was a husband and a father. He truly followed the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers: “Lead the Way.” This is about what Dad taught me just through the way he lived. 

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

The cover of '(Extra)Ordinary Leadership': Dad in his military dress uniform.

The cover of '(Extra)Ordinary Leadership': Dad in his military dress uniform.

The above quote is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though I have not been able to find any record of him actually having said or written it. Regardless, I feel that the sentiment is true, and that St. Francis may have said it is entirely plausible based on his own life of service and love to others. St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks, and even hundreds of years later he stands as an amazing example of a man who lived his life in such a way that he consistently put the needs of others above his own.

What does it mean to preach the gospel without using words? Actions must show the love of God to others, to the degree that the recipient cannot but wonder at your motivation. Our love must be such that it cannot be explained away by reason or ulterior motive, even by the most jaded cynic. Understood this way, love is a choice, an action, an expression of the will. This idea is addressed by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters when, writing as Screwtape, he describes the demons as wondering what God is really up to when Screwtape says that “He really loves the little vermin.” To people who don’t understand the love of God, the motives of Christian love will forever remain a mystery.

The world will question Christians’ motives, and we must overcome even the strongest objections through our actions. When we do this, and when the opportunity arises for words, the words will then carry the full weight of convictions already proven, not just the often-empty promises of something postponed or alluded to. I do not know if I ever heard Dad actually share the Gospel. In fact, when he was not far from death, I asked my father about his salvation because I simply was not sure, and I was not willing to lose him without being as sure as I could be about his salvation. I knew he had been a good man of high morals, but since he was not vocal about his faith, I was not sure he was saved, and I needed to be. As it turns out, this was one of the more ridiculous worries I have ever had.

Upon reflection, it should have been obvious that Dad’s motivation was not anything other than a desire to serve God well by loving other people. When I look back at the many ways Dad served and loved others throughout his lifetime, I began to try to understand the principles behind his actions. The more I examined them, the more I have realized that all of them are rooted in love. Despite being from a generation that often frowned on males showing affection, my father never hesitated to give me a hug or tell me that he loved me.

In the same way, many people who knew Dad spoke of how they knew he cared about them because of his actions, his treatment of them. It was this ability to show love to others, to serve them and show them that he cared, that was at the center of who my father was. He was not always perfect, and he often failed, especially with my older brother, with whom he often disagreed. However, as Dad and my brother both got older, this love became more evident, it became more vocal, and it made my heart glad to see how much better my dad and brother got along before Dad died.

In talking with many people about Dad, including my mom, I have learned that Dad first learned integrity and love from his own parents, John Myron Hawbaker, a good man by all accounts, and Olive Alice Merriman, a loving and caring mother. And it is the foundation of love that is at the heart of all of the principles found in this book. For those of you who want to know where these principles came from, a brief explanation may suffice.

One of my all-time favorite pictures: Dad, my older daughter, and me, on our way to a soccer game.

One of my all-time favorite pictures: Dad, my older daughter, and me, on our way to a soccer game.

A number of years ago I was asked to give a devotional message for my fellow high school teachers at a Christian school in Alabama. In the process of thinking about that, I started thinking about my father, who had recently passed away. I was struck by a number of life principles that he embodied and yet never spoke aloud. I was also amazed that he had never actually said these things and yet they were so apparent to anyone who knew him. These principles form the core of each chapter in the book. Each principle is written out clearly and then explained using illustrations from Dad’s life. I hope that anyone who reads this is encouraged and inspired to also try to live like Dad did. I can think of no better way to honor him than to try to live out the principles he embodied.

In some ways, Dad lived an ordinary, if eventful, life: son, brother, husband, father, soldier, civilian. However, the way he lived and the principles he lived by were extraordinary, and I hope you are encouraged by him.

'10 Things Dad Taught Me Without Saying Anything'

  1. Always show respect to others, even when they don’t extend you the same courtesy.

  2. Control your temper--it’s yours, and only you can lose it.

  3. Choose to be in a good mood every morning--you can control your emotions, or you can be controlled by them.

  4. If there is work to do, do it--no excuses or reasons to avoid it--get it done.

  5. You are responsible for you. Own up to your actions and accept responsibility for your choices.

  6. Others come first--always.

  7. There is no person or task that is below your dignity.

  8. It’s OK if people don’t know how great you are--you don’t have to tell them.

  9. Take care of your family even if it’s hard.

  10. Always do what is right.