A Word for Fathers

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  • While visiting Columbia Bible College in South Carolina, I found in the library a little book called Father and Son, written by my grandfather, Philip E. Howard. He writes:

    Do you remember that encouraging word of Thomas Fuller’s, a chaplain of Oliver Cromwell’s time? It’s a good passage for a father in all humility and gratitude to tuck away in his memory treasures:

    Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. (1) Rehoboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son. (2) Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son. (3) Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father a good son. (4) Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.

    In another chapter Grandpa Howard tells this story.

    A sensitive, timid little boy, long years ago, was accustomed to lie down to sleep in a low ‘trundle-bed,’ which was rolled under his parents’ bed by day and was brought out for his use by night. As he lay there by himself in the darkness, he could hear the voices of his parents, in their lighted sitting-room across the hallway, on the other side of the house. It seemed to him that his parents never slept; for he left them awake when he was put to bed at night, and he found them awake when he left his bed in the morning. So far this thought was a cause of cheer to him, as his mind was busy with imaginings in the weird darkness of his lonely room.

    After loving good-night words and kisses had been given him by both his parents, and he had nestled down to rest, this little boy was accustomed, night after night, to rouse up once more, and to call out from his trundle-bed to his strong-armed father, in the room from which the light gleamed out, beyond the shadowy hallway, ‘Are you there, papa?’ And the answer would come back cheerily, ‘Yes, my child, I am here.’ `You’ll take care of me tonight, papa, won’t you?’ was then the question. ‘Yes, I’ll take care of you, my child,’ was the comforting response. ‘Go to sleep now. Good night.’ And the little fellow would fall asleep restfully, in the thought of those assuring good-night words.

    A little matter that was to the loving father; but it was a great matter to the sensitive son. It helped to shape the son’s life. It gave the father an added hold on him; and it opened up the way for his clearer understanding of his dependence on the loving watchfulness of the All-Father. And to this day when that son, himself a father and a grandfather, lies down to sleep at night, he is accustomed, out of the memories of that lesson of long ago, to look up through the shadows of his earthly sleeping place into the far-off light of his Father’s presence, and to call out, in the same spirit of childlike trust and helplessness as so long ago, ‘Father, you’ll take care of me tonight, won’t you?’ And he hears the assuring answer come back, ‘He that keepeth thee will not slumber. The Lord shall keep thee from all evil. He shall keep thy soul. Sleep, my child, in peace.’ And so he realizes the twofold blessing of a father’s goodnight words.

    That story, says Grandpa, came from his own father-in-law, my great-grandfather, Henry Clay Trumbull. I have a hunch that Trumbull was that little boy, and the father my great-great-grandfather.

    **Excerpt originally published in “Keep a Quiet Heart”, pg. 229-230.