Dadvice from a globe-trotting preacher and a Mayberry sheriff
Get the scoop on love, sacrifice, honesty, and more homespun wisdom courtesy of Andy Griffith and Billy Graham
“I’d rather hear my father pray more than anybody in the world.” You know who said that? Reverend Billy Graham, whose preaching in every corner of the world led hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to accept Christ as their savior.
In May 1934, Rev. Graham was a 15-year-old teenager doing his afternoon chores when his father and a group of local businessmen gathered under a grove of shade trees at the edge of a pasture on the Grahams’ dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. They had a mighty big prayer in their hearts — that God would raise up somebody from Charlotte who would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Rev. Graham was not “saved” then — that’s a story for another day.
Later as a father who traveled frequently, Rev. Graham cherished being home with his children. Leaving his mountaintop home to preach the Gospel often left him feeling conflicted. “Many a time I’ve driven down that driveway with tears coming down my cheeks, not wanting to leave,” he once said.
Rev. Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz recently recalled, “I was raised by a single parent because ministry took my father away from our family — for weeks and months at a time. Daddy estimated that he was gone 60 percent of his children’s growing-up years. Until Daddy started staying home to be with Mother during the last years of her life, I could count on one hand the Father’s Days I spent with him. But giving him up was more than worthwhile because I meet people every day who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of his ministry.”
And who’s heard of The Andy Griffith Show? Or watched an episode featuring Sheriff Andy Taylor as a single dad trying to raise a young son named Opie in the fictional North Carolina community of Mayberry? Towards the end of his life, Griffith was asked by a reporter, “What was one piece of advice you gave your kids as they were growing up that still holds true today?” Griffith thoughtfully replied, “Be honest. When a question comes up, answer it honestly. Don’t dodge it, keep it clear, keep it honest, and fresh.”
Griffith forgot to add this part, so this comes from me. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. If you messed up or you’re flat out wrong — and that’s gonna happen sure as I’m standing here — admit it — whether that’s to your kids or your wife. Be willing to listen to what’s bothering them instead of immediately passing judgment. Love them. Just love them. I think that would be the measure of a good dad.
Oh, and spend some time with your dad if you’re blessed to still have him among the living, whether that’s catching an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman or Bonanza, seeking advice on your broken down car, lending a helping hand in his yard, or just chatting on the phone for five minutes. We have no promise of tomorrow, and one day you’ll wish you still had such moments together.
For Father’s Day I was tasked with delivering the above speech exploring love, sacrifice, and honesty at my home church — Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist — in the rural South Georgia city of Alapaha. Earlier that week while searching for a book to peruse I stumbled upon Robert Hilburn’s exhaustively researched Johnny Cash: The Life in my upstairs study. Considering a speech about the Man in Black’s absentee parenting during his first marriage to Vivian Liberto, instead I was drawn to Cash’s 35-year friendship with Graham. Performing and sharing his testimony at dozens of evangelistic crusades, Cash sought Graham’s advice whenever temptation —e.g. pills and infidelity — threatened to usurp his relationship with God.
Further inspiration struck when I serendipitously caught “Mr. McBeevee,” the heart-stirring debut episode of The Andy Griffith Show’s third season in 1962, late one afternoon on TV Land. In spite of the retro basic cable network’s deluge of commercials, I repeatedly pressed the rewind button on my DirecTV DVR remote as Andy defended his mischievous eight-year-old kid’s seemingly tall tale of befriending a man who “walks atop trees, jingles as he strides, blows smoke from his ears, carries 12 extra hands on his belt, and wears a big, shiny silver hat” to a suspicious Deputy Barney Fife and housekeeper Aunt Bee Taylor. “When you’re asked to believe something that just don’t seem possible,” said the sagacious law enforcement officer, “that’s the moment that decides whether you got faith in somebody or not.” Pretty compelling evidence as to why Griffith was voted No. 8 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time list.
Standing in front of my mom’s cherry red Ford Edge repeatedly rehearsing and editing my three and a half minute presentation well past the wee hours — a fulfilling concert by former American Idol country contestant Kellie Pickler at Wild Adventures Theme Park delayed my progress — I finally drifted to sleep feeling deep down that I had a winner. That’s hardly ever the case as I am my harshest critic. At the speech’s finale I was treated to applause. That’s never happened before to this writer who battles severe anxiety!
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