Fathers teach—mostly by example. My father’s example put a strong desire in my eleven-year-old heart to be a cigar smoker like he was. Loving fathers also teach their children by exposing them to experiences that teach. My father, or Papa as I called him, was a loving father.
He exemplified the Dutch saying, “Hij is geen man die niet roken kan.” (A man who can’t smoke is not a real man.) For years I had envied my Papa, my Opa (grandpa) and all my uncles who smoked cigars every Sunday as they walked home from church. Sometimes they had a second cigar with coffee while lunch was being prepared. I couldn’t wait until I was a teenager and could be a real man.
I couldn’t wait, and I didn’t. I saved the pennies and nickels I earned as tips when delivering orders to customers of Papa’s store. One day I walked into the tobacco shop where Papa often sent me to buy cigars for him and, laying my money on the counter, asked if it was enough to buy a cigar. It was!
When I got home I realized I hadn’t thought through my plan too well. I couldn’t hide the cigar in the house, my Mama would be sure to find it when cleaning house, which was all the time. So I hid my carefully wrapped package outside, behind the drain spout coming down from the roof. It was dry, the spider webs testified to that, and totally safe from prying parental eyes.
But not safe from the eyes of the Saturday afternoon gardener. He turned my cigar in to Mama who passed it on to Papa who confronted me with it after supper. To my surprise and relief, he was not angry but simply said, “So you want to smoke a cigar. Fine, we’ll smoke our cigars together after church tomorrow.” Wow! I was beginning to feel like a real man already!
Arriving home from church the next day, he picked out a cigar for himself, clipped the end and lit it. I unwrapped my cigar, clipped the end and lit it. Then we walked out the front door puffing contentedly—in between my coughing spells that is. As we sauntered around the block, I started to get the hang of it, and inhaled deeply from time to time.
All was well, and I felt my real manhood arriving several years early, but half way around the block I stumbled—the sidewalk seemed to be moving. I walked along, not saying much, while Papa kept saying, “Come on, take another puff, your cigar is going out.” I was sort of hoping it would.
By the time the house was in view I was sweating, my stomach hurt and, when we finally got to our gate, all I could do was lean over the fence and vomit onto Mama’s violets.
Yes, Papa was a great teacher. Seven years later, after smoking for thirty years, he strove for a full year to quit. As I watched his struggle, he taught me another lesson. Smoking cigars together and allowing me to feel deathly ill was his way of showing love to his oldest son.
God, our Heavenly Father, is also a loving Father. Just like my Papa, God also exposes us to experiences that teach us. He allows us to live in the consequences of our actions, even when our actions result in nasty, unpleasant things like illness or accidents, fines or firings, or painful broken relationships. Sometimes He provides experiences that are not of our own making: computer crashes, economic meltdowns, loss of jobs, or loss through sickness, accident, fire or robbery.
How do we handle these pains and problems? It took me seven years to fully understand that my Papa’s action that day we smoked cigars together was done in love for my ultimate good. It might take seven years for us to understand that our Heavenly Faher’s action was for our ultimate good. We may not know until we leave time and enter eternity.
In the meantime, we believe that He loves us and that He is good, all the time.