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What Billy Graham Can Teach Us About Failing as a Father

In Articles, Family, Father, Forgiveness, Life Issues by Kirk Giles

Excerpt from The Seasons of Fatherhood.

If you have more than three friends, you probably know someone who feels like a failure as a father.  If we were all honest, we would acknowledge none of us have been perfect.  I fully recognize the chapters in this book come with a lot of assumptions about the status of your relationship with your children and their mother.  Some reading this book may feel more broken and overwhelmed than others, but all of us have room for improvement.

I have met men who have never spoken to their children, and fathers who once had a good relationship, but it has broken down somewhere along the way.  I have met men who can identify actions they have taken to deeply hurt their children, and men who simply do not know where it all went wrong.

If you had a difficult time finding yourself in these chapters, I want you to know that you are not alone.  If you read the teaching in these chapters and recognize your own failures as a father in this or any other stage of your children’s lives, I want you to know you are not alone.

Failure is a sure sign that you are human.  Sadly, broken relationships are part of the human existence as well.  Your failure and brokenness does not need to define you.

Billy Graham is perhaps the most famous evangelist for the Christian faith in modern history.  Shortly after he passed away, the Washington Post wrote an article (February 21, 2018) on what life was like for Billy Graham the father and for his children:

When their first child, Virginia, was born in 1945, Billy was away on a preaching trip.  As Graham’s crusades took him throughout the world, little was left for Ruth and the children … Once, when Ruth brought Anne to a crusade and let her surprise her father while he was talking on the telephone, he started at the toddler with a blank look, not recognizing his own daughter.  In a turnabout a few years later, young Franklin greeted his father’s homecoming from a crusade with a puzzled “Who’s he?”

Graham’s daughter, Gigi, told a story of a time when her father was going to discipline her for something:

“Once, he disciplined me for something I did.  I don’t even remember what it was about, but we had some disagreement in the kitchen.  I ran up the stairs, and when I thought I was out of range, I stomped my feet.  Then I ran into my room and locked my door.  He came up the stairs, two at a time it sounded like, and he was angry.  When I finally opened the door, he pulled me across the room, sat me on the bed, and gave me a real tongue lashing.  I said, “Some dad you are!  You go away and leave us all the time!”  Immediately his eyes filled with tears.  It just broke my heart.  That whole scene was always a part of my memory bank after that.”

It is difficult for many people to imagine that this would be the family life of a well respected, world-famous Christian father.

In June 2009, his daughter Ruth wrote a story in Joy! Magazine about a poor decision she made as an adult.  She was in a relationship with a man her parents and family warned her about.  She ignored the warnings and married him anyways.  She soon become fearful for her safety and realized she needed to leave this man.

“I had no place to go except to my parents’ home.  My fears multiplied with every mile.  Questions swirled in my mind:  What was my life going to be like now?  What was I going to say to my parents?  What would they say to me?  I had failed my children.  What kind of example was I?  Fear kept my hands on the steering wheel and adrenaline kept my foot on the accelerator.  As I rounded the last bend in my parents’ driveway, I saw my father standing there.  I parked the car and took a deep breath to try and stifle the flood of emotions I felt.  As I got out, my father wrapped his arms around me and said, “Welcome home.”  There was no condemnation, no “I told you so”, no guilt or shame.

One of the sureties of my life has been that I know my father loves me unconditionally.  Through all my ups and downs, heartbreaks, bad choices and sins, he is constant in his love.  I have often said that I wouldn’t compare my father to God, but he has sown me what unconditional love, forgiveness and grace are.  My father’s grace and gentleness colour my world.”

I share this story with you because I want you to have hope.  Billy Graham’s stories of failure as a father are well recorded, but something must have changed along the way.  Somewhere in the story of their family his children began to experience a father who wanted to be like God the Father.

The same God who Billy Graham told millions of people about is the one who loved him and forgave him of his sins.  This same God brought healing amid all the brokenness in their family.

The same God who forgave and helped to heal Billy Graham can provide the same forgiveness and healing for you.

If you have failed as a father, here are five things I want to encourage you to consider doing:

1. Ask God to forgive you of your sins and failures as a father.

1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.  This is all possible because Jesus took the place for you on the cross.  Your sin deserves to be punished, but Jesus took your place.  Forgiveness is possible by God’s grace and by your faith in Jesus and His sacrifice for you.

2. Ask God to help you begin to be the father your children deserve.

Begin at the stage of life you find yourself in today.  One of the common mistakes is to try and make up for lost time by attempting to redo a previous season. 2 Peter 1:3 says God’s divine power gives us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him.  God’s promise is that He will give you everything you need to be a great dad.

3. Write a letter to your children or talk to them.

Tell them all the ways you know you have failed as a father.  Ask them to forgive you.  This is most appropriate for teenage and adult children.  You may have to filter this step with younger children.

4. Be prepared for them to reject you.

You cannot control if they will forgive you or want a relationship with you.  All you can control is your love for them.

5. Begin to pursue relationship with them.

Remember, you cannot just step in and be everything we have talked about in this book.  It’s a journey of establishing relationship.  You may end up missing one of the roles in this book because of lost years in your relationship, but that does not mean that you must lose the relationship.  Keep pursuing them and building your relationship.  See how God brings healing to your family.  This may be more difficult in some relationships.  Unless they tell you to leave them alone, don’t ever give up pursuing your children.

Being a father who failed does not need to make you feel hopeless or filled with despair.  In fact, being honest about your failures is the beginning of a journey of redemption.  Don’t stay where you are.  Your kids still need you.  Humble yourself – pursue being a better man – pursue the heart of your children.

Kirk Giles
Kirk Giles is the co-lead pastor of Forward Church in Cambridge, ON. He was formerly the President of Impactus (when it was known as Promise Keepers Canada). However, his most important roles as a man are husband to Shannon and father to Carter, Joshua, Sydney and Samuel. He is also the author of The Seasons of Fatherhood.
Kirk Giles
Kirk Giles is the co-lead pastor of Forward Church in Cambridge, ON. He was formerly the President of Impactus (when it was known as Promise Keepers Canada). However, his most important roles as a man are husband to Shannon and father to Carter, Joshua, Sydney and Samuel. He is also the author of The Seasons of Fatherhood.