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OPINION: Passing on the father/child connection

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David Whitlock

Guest Columnist

drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com

“Whatcha preaching on?”

That’s how my dad would answer the phone for years when I would call him on Sunday mornings.

We talked each day, early in the morning, just for a few moments.

There is something about talking to Dad, whether it’s small talk, “just checking in,” or something more pressing, like “Is it okay to visit you and Mom in June?” or “I’m thinking about buying a car, what do you think?”

As Dad aged, our conversations became more and more limited to the small stuff.

And that was okay with the both of us.

But Sunday mornings were still special, both to Dad and to me.

“Whatcha preaching on?” was to Dad, as important as who OU would be playing the next Saturday in football.

And Dad’s follow-up question on Monday, would be, “Well, how did it go?”

Dad’s been gone now for over a year and a half, and I miss my morning calls, but especially the “Sunday Morning Whatcha Preaching on” call.

My older brother, Mark, knew about the Sunday morning call between Dad and me.

My first Sunday back in the pulpit after Dad’s death, I kissed my wife “bye” as I got in my car, then I looked back at her and said, “I sure am going to miss calling Dad.”

She knew the pain, for she had lost her dad not long before my dad died.

And there was nothing she could say other than, “I know.”

Sometimes that’s all you can say to someone who is grieving. And when it’s from the right person, it’s enough.

Then, as I pulled out of the garage, my cell phone rang.

It was Mark, my brother: “Whatcha preaching on?” he asked.

We chuckled, partly to mask our grief, and partly to keep moving forward.

We both knew Dad couldn’t be replaced. We both understood, as author Gordon MacDonald put it, “the lament of old men and women who, when a father or mother has passed, say, ‘Who is there to hear me any longer?’”

A couple of months ago, I decided to do something about it. No, I didn’t try and recreate the Sunday call, maybe have a different person call me each week and ask, “Whatcha preaching on?” At best that would be artificial, at worst: weird and annoying.

What I did was start texting my own kids. Each Sunday, after I’ve gone over my sermon for the umpteenth time, finally arriving at that place where I’m ready to deliver it, I’ll text my kids, telling them I’m ready to preach, and often, I tell them what I’m preaching on.

Usually, not all at once, but soon after my text message, I’ll get a response, assuring me they are with me and often adding, “praying for you, Dad,” or simply, “Love you.”

I know the important thing is not so much what I’m preaching on or their particular response. No, what’s significant here is connecting with each other in regular, repeated events that are mutually important to fathers and children. Sundays are by no means the only time I talk with my kids, but there is something extra special about that day for me. And my kids get that and affirm it.

And somehow, I think Dad would be pleased that I’m communicating with my kids, his grandkids, on this day, on Sunday.

I think he might say to my children and me, “Yawl keep doing that. That’s good.”

And I believe he would add, “Now, David, go preach the Word.”