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The Forgotten (And Sometimes Forsaken) Commandment: The Greatest Gift You Will Ever Give To Your Dad

“What is honored in a land will be cultivated there.” Plato

By Dennis Rainey

Take a step back with me and look at our country and reflect on what we as a nation truly honor, and how we esteem those we think deserve honor.

Here’s a sampling of what we honor and ways we recognize major achievements:

  • World Series champions are usually honored with a parade through the city they represent.

  • Women and men who compete against the world and become Olympic champions stand on the highest step of the podium with a gold medal draped around their necks while their national anthem is played.

  • An Oscar is given for the best of everything in movies, as the world watches.

  • The Presidential Inauguration, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is broadcast worldwide.

  • We honor the business success of founders like Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX) with a plethora of online accolades.

  • There’s the honor that goes to the valedictorian in high school graduations.

  • Super Bowl champions are feted with confetti and Super Bowl rings. ( I think Tom Brady should have an annual national holiday, he has 7 of those rings!)

  • A few marital honorees will have a cake topper with a golden “50”, celebrating 50 years of marriage.

Our culture knows how to honor the victor, the successful, those whose performance exceeds expectations, and even those who just didn’t quit.

But moms? Dads? Not so much.

Why? For one thing, no parent is perfect … they don’t score a perfect “10” for the 18-20+ year assignment of loving and training children to become adults. And then there are moms and dads who are hopelessly broken, who have truly hurt their children deeply.

I think it’s why our heads do a 180 when we hear God speaking from heaven and declaring the fifth commandment, commanding us to “Honor your father and mother … ” (Exodus 20:12).

I call that commandment “The Forgotten Commandment.”

Honoring parents is more than purchasing a $5 greeting card that takes three minutes to find, five minutes to sign a quick “love ya,” then another five minutes to stuff, stamp, and mail. Then maybe a token five-minute phone call. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weren’t designed by the Hallmark Company, but that’s what these national holidays have become. Retail. Quick. No stress. Cleansed of any “heart.” Simple. And done for another 365 days.

Webster’s College Dictionary defines the word “honor” as “high public esteem; fame; glory; to earn a position of honor.”

In the original language of the Old Testament the word honor meant “heavy” or “weight.” It’s literal meaning was “to lay it on them.” It meant, “I weigh a person down with respect and esteem.” Honor says, “I place upon you great worth and value for what you did.”

When spoken or written thoughtfully, your words deliver transfusion of life and honor from your heart to your parents. And there are many other ways to honor them … a visit, regular phone calls, a handwritten note, speaking well of them behind their backs, etc. But I have to say that a pair of house slippers, a hand-held vacuum cleaner or shirt for dad, just doesn’t cut it! A box of Godiva chocolates may come closer … but the assignment for a son or daughter is to bust out of the bland mediocrity of the human herd and to “up your game.”

That’s why I decided to write three blog posts on truly honoring your parents this Mother’s Day and Father’s Day season by writing and presenting to your parents a personal tribute that is framed and matted in a way that will turn their heads toward what you have written.

And then take it home and read it to your mom, your dad, or perhaps both of them. If you can’t be there, this is one time when a Zoom call is much better than a phone call as you read it to them. It’s ok to cry as you read it … in fact, it’ll actually be better! It’ll show “heart felt” appreciation. Invite your children to watch you and listen.

Now I know there are parents who, humanly speaking, are not worthy of honor. Perhaps they were abusive, neglectful, and may have even deserted your family as you grew up. Downright generationally damaging. Consider this raw quote from King George V: “My father was frightened of his father. I was frightened of my father, and I am damned well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me.”

That is so wrong and vile. It’s why I wrote a chapter, "When the Damage Goes Deep," in my book The Forgotten Commandment to address the needs of children who grew up in totally dysfunctional families. In no way did I experience hate-filled parents, but my heart goes out to those who did. My encouragement to those who did is to have a conversation with a competent, biblically-based counselor who can help you sort out the tangled emotions of being abused or deserted.

Dad made good on his promises to Mom

A tribute to my dad

Last week I shared the Tribute I wrote for my mom. The power of that tribute spawned thousands of adult children globally to write one for their moms for Mother’s Day, a birthday or Christmas gift.

In my book The Forgotten Commandment I share the tribute I crafted to honor my dad … even though he had died suddenly a decade earlier at the age of 66.

My experience prompted a chapter titled “No Regrets,” exhorting those who read it to express honor while your dad is alive. I recall standing by his casket, thinking, “There’s so much more I would’ve liked to have said to him … thanking him for the legacy of integrity that he gave me … to give him one more hug and feel his beard against my face … to tell him one more time ‘I love you, Dad—I am so proud to be your son.’”

If your dad is alive, you will most likely find yourself standing next to his casket someday in the future. It’s not too late to take honor home and say, “I love you, Dad.”

My framed tribute to my Dad hanging in my office

My Tribute to “Hook” Rainey

“Dad’s home,” I used to yell as the back door slammed shut.

Our small, two-story frame house would shudder when the back door slammed shut. The sound of the slamming door was especially loud when one man came through its threshold–my dad. I can recall, as a little boy, playing in my room and hearing that door send a series of quakes that rippled through the walls and rattled the windows. It was my dad’s signature and signal that a day of work was completed and a man was now home.

Dad ran a gas station in the depression

I would yell, “Dad’s home!” and then dash through the hall and kitchen to greet him with a well-deserved hug. I would then follow him like a little puppy to the wash room where he washed his callused, grimy hands like a “real man.” Everything about him signaled he was a “real man” — from the gritty Lava soap to the Vitalis hair tonic and Old Spice after shave.

My dad was a unique blend of no-nonsense and discipline with a subtle sense of humor. He was a quiet and private man. He was a man of few words, who didn’t seem to need many words to get the job done. His countenance commanded respect. In fact, there were several boys who had a personality and discipline transformation when they graduated from the third grade Sunday school class to my dad’s fourth grade class. Miraculously, discipline problems dried up along with dozens of paper spit wads. In the 12 months that followed, paper airplanes were grounded and eight boys sat up straight in their chairs dutifully listening to the lesson.

“Hook” Rainey they used to call him. The tall lefty got his nickname from his curve ball–a pitch so crooked it mystified batters. I got the feeling he was on his way to becoming a legend in his day–he even pitched a game against Dizzy Dean. Funny thing, but he never could remember the score of that memorable game! I used to accuse him of convenient amnesia!

I recall the easy chair that used to carry the shape of his exhausted form. It was as he was reading the evening paper that I usually planned my assault on him. I’m certain I nearly pestered him to death on more than one occasion while asking my weary dad to play catch. And play catch he did. Night after night, “Hook” taught me how to throw a curve, slider, and knuckleball. He used to claim you could count the stitches on his knuckle-ball–and when he threw that patented knuckler the entire front yard was filled with laughter–his and mine. I always loved to hear him laugh. Somehow it told me everything was secure.

Not too bad at 70 years old!

When I was three or so, he went to Colorado hunting and “bagged” a fierce teddy bear. He staged the “action” on film and brought the fierce beast back to me. My kids now play with that worn-out 35-year-old black and white bear.

I watched him look after the needs of his mother–he used to visit his mom three or four times a week. He modeled what it meant to “honor one’s parents.”

From him I learned about integrity, trust, and how to be a man of my word. His example taught me the importance of perseverance, for he stuck with his job for nearly 45 years. He leaves me an indelible imprint of sinking roots down deep–and living with the same people with whom he did business.

When I was in high school, I won the magazine sales contest because I introduced myself as Hook Rainey’s son. That was good enough for an instant sale for nearly 100 percent of my “customers.” My dad had helped so many people that being his son gave me immeasurable credibility. (For a while I actually thought I was a great salesman!)

His reputation was untarnished in the community. His funeral was attended by nearly a third of the small, southwest Missouri community. He lived and did his work all within five miles of where he was born. One man was even able to say about my father, “In all my years I never heard a negative word about Hook Rainey.”

My Dad's letterman jacket

He gave me imperishable memories instead of just things: Memories of little league baseball (he was coach); fishing trips where he netted my fish, so small they went through the holes in the net; and a “clipped” collection of all the baseball and basketball scores from my games, of which he never missed one. There are memories of watching him through the frosted window of our old pick-up truck delivering hams at Christmas. Memories of the feel of his whiskers when he wrestled with me on the floor of the living room, and memories of him whispering to me, an extroverted, impetuous boy, not to bother people while they work. And finally, memories of snuggling close to him as we watched the game of the week with Dizzy Dean as the announcer.

As an impressionable young boy, my radar caught more of his life than he ever knew. He was the model and hero I needed during some perilous teenage years–and you know what, he still is. He taught me the importance of hard work and completing a task. I learned about lasting commitment from him–I never feared my parents would divorce. My dad was absolutely committed to my mom. I felt secure and protected.

But most importantly he taught me about character. He did what was right, even when no one was looking. I never heard him talk about cheating on taxes–he paid them and didn’t grumble. His integrity was impeccable. I never heard him lie and his eyes always demanded the same truth in return. The mental snapshot of his character still fuels and energizes my life today.

“Dad’s home!” I can still hear the door slam and the house quake.

Valentines - The Turnip seeds were a joke from Mom to Dad...he was NOT a gardener.

This morning as I write this, Dad truly is “home” — in heaven. I look forward to seeing him again someday and saying thanks for the legacy he gave me. And mostly for being “my dad.”

But right now, you’ll have to pardon me, I miss him.

May God grant you the courage and words to honor your dad. I’d like to predict that for 99 percent of you who do, IT WILL BE THE BEST GIFT YOU HAVE EVER GIVEN YOUR PARENTS. (Just wait and watch where they hang it up for them and others to read.)

Dennis Rainey

Psalm 112:1-2

Copyright © by Dennis Rainey




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