It’s common for men to think they have nothing to offer after they retire. It’s time to resurrect the noble mantle of “patriarch.”
By Dennis Rainey
About a dozen men sat at the table in a prestigious country club, all former executives and highly successful. Leaders. Champions. Bright, intelligent minds. These were risk takers who’d been checkered with success and failure.
Married between 45 to 60 years, these men clearly had plenty to share with a younger generation. Their grey heads only added to their dignity.
They had asked me to talk for 10 minutes about what FamilyLife was doing to strengthen marriages and families. As I unpacked what we were doing, I casually mentioned that I would be speaking to a gathering of executives a couple of days later about “Qualities of a Patriarch.”
What happened next was fascinating. It was as though I’d touched an open nerve. For the next 45 minutes they peppered me with questions, peeling back their hearts and sharing disappointments, frustrations, doubts, and desires.
They talked about how their adult children were critical of them, pushing them to the fringes of their lives. They were treated as unnecessary—except as babysitters—and they felt their family really didn’t really want their influence or their involvement in their lives.
They said the only opportunities their church offered for involvement were ushering, serving on the stewardship committee, and giving to building plans. They lamented that the culture had become so youth-oriented that they felt emasculated—treated as though they were done and had nothing to give back.
These men—who had once been kings in their families, their businesses, and their communities—were now uncertain what their roles should be. Like broken antiques gathering dust in the attic, they lived without purpose.
But as they interacted, I could see in their eyes that they longed to be challenged again. War hardened and savvy, these sage soldiers wanted to fill their nostrils with the smoke of the battlefield and engage in the fight again. They really didn’t want to trade their swords and armor for a 5-iron and a golf shirt. They realized they were made for something far nobler than watching cable news in a recliner.
I sat there astonished at what amounted to “grand theft”—men robbed of their glory, no longer dreaming because of a complicity of forces that had robbed them of their courage to step up.
Why are you here?
I left that meeting with two conclusions. First, most men don’t know how to think about aging. They don’t know what the Bible has to say about aging. Instead of pursuing God and His purposes for their lives, they step down and squander a lifetime of experience, wisdom, and abilities. They erroneously conclude their impact is over and take their cues from the culture about retirement.
Think with me for a moment: How many men do you know in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who are vigorous, still growing in their faith, and still using their influence for God? Men so visionary, so alive, so positive and expectant about how God is going to use them that you want to be like them when you grow old?
A second conclusion was evident: It is time to resurrect the mantle of “patriarch.” It’s time for a new order of noble, life-seasoned men to courageously arise, strip away encumbrances, and do battle on behalf of their children, grandchildren, communities, and nation.
For those of you who are over 55 years old—and especially if you are retired—I have a tough question: If you’re finished making a difference, then why are you here?
Do you think your best days are behind you? Do you think you don’t have anything else to give?
Or on the other hand, wouldn’t you love to be able to articulate your mission for the years you’ve got left? Wouldn’t you like to know what and feel noble about you’re living for?
Could you imagine others considering you to be … a patriarch?
A word that drips with dignity
The word “patriarch” come from the Latin word patri, which means “father.” Webster defines a patriarch as it relates to a family as, “a man who is a father or founder, the oldest representative of a group, a venerable [esteemed] old man.
Unfortunately, in today’s culture many people consider “patriarch” a dirty word. For some it conjures images of male chauvinism, of self-serving men who rule their homes through fear, force, and manipulation.
But I believe it’s a word that—when considered in its proper context—drips with dignity. In the Old Testament, patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and David served as heads of their families and were described as men after God’s heart. In today’s culture, patriarchs are men who spend their final years investing in the generations to come. They are men who realize their potential to have a lasting influence in their families and in their communities.
I began to become interested in the thought of being a patriarch as my children grew into adults and began to marry. My role as a father was changing; I knew that as they established their own families I no longer had the same type of authority in their lives. But I also began to recognize that my work as a father was not finished … it was just changing. Even though my children were adults, they still needed my encouragement and prayers. I’m no longer the head coach calling the players, but I’ve become a fan on the sidelines, cheering them on.
As patriarchs we have the time to cheer for our grandchildren and pass on stories of how God has worked in our lives. One of my grandchildren once asked me how I helped start FamilyLife. I gave him a condensed version of the story, and was reminded of Psalm 71:17-18, a passage you might call the memoirs of a patriarch: “O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.”
A new title
What an opportunity we have as we enter into the final years of life to use the wisdom and influence we’ve accumulated to reach out to the next generation. This is the vision many men today need for their final years.
I think of Bill Barber, a lifelong Texan with a wonderful, earthy sense of humor. I met Bill after his son, Clay, came to work at FamilyLife, and I remember when I called him a patriarch. He later wrote me to say he was surprised at my remark. “Heck, I didn’t realize that I was one.”
Bill said he’d been called repulsive, obnoxious, anachronistic, a con man, funny, crazy, opinionated, a rascal, and “an enigma with savoir faire.” But he kind of liked this new title of “patriarch.”
“Fact is, I’m really loving this patriarching,” he wrote. It is “a lot simpler than most of my peers think. You gotta quit fighting it. Admit your age. Oh, yes, it doesn’t hurt to be 1) an encourager; 2) a servant; 3) to disciple; 4) sometimes be silent; 5) forgiving to others and self. … Being a patriarch is just not too bad.”
Excerpted by permission from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, by Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife Publishers. Copyright © by Dennis Rainey. All rights reserved.
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