My Dad is Coming to See Me Graduate!

 

“He’s coming! He’s really coming…just to see me!”

Darnelle, an eighteen-year-old high school Senior, shot into my office, slammed the door shut behind him, and started jumping up and down—he was literally shaking the entire floor of the office building, because he was jumping so hard with excitement. My boss knocked on the window of my door, to make sure that everything was okay. I jumped up and, poking my head out of my door and laughing, assured her that no one was getting beat.

Darnelle loudly apologized, and was so excited he was laughing and crying all at the same time. It took him a full ten minutes before I could get him to sit down long enough to tell me what was happening.

The Backstory

Before I tell you why Darnelle was jumping in my office, I need to give you some back story.

Darnelle, as only a junior in high school, had been accepted into a prestigious (one of only three in the county) top-tier college football program—on a full, four-year athletic scholarship. He had plans to play professionally in the National Football League (NFL) and, as a back-up, wanted to be an athletic physical therapist. He had big goals, big plans, big dreams, and he could do it.

The only problem was Darnelle. At this point in his life, he could write his own ticket but he needed to learn to get out of his own way. Dynamic, driven, strong-willed, and stubborn, he was funny, charming, and intelligent, but impulsive and had a dangerous and sometimes explosive, hair-trigger temper. When he did well, he did amazing, but, on the flip-side, when he screwed up, he did it big time as well. I had been working closely with a team comprised of: his mother, his teachers, his high school and college football coaches, and a sports psychologist.

Darnelle was Dynamite!

Darnelle was literally dynamite—in both the positive and negative sense of the word. He had so much positive power to offer, but if he didn’t learn to control himself, that same power could be destructive.

Darnelle’s coaches and the sports psychologist presently perceived Darnelle more as a liability rather than an asset—and it was up to me, as his counselor, to work with Darnelle, to see if we could change that. When Darnelle initially accepted the university’s scholarship offer, it came with an actual contract that he and his mother needed to signl.

When that happened, the school became invested in ensuring that Darnelle, was totally prepared and developed for what was to be expected of him. The university, rightly explained to Darnelle, that they were investing a lot of time, energy, experience, and money, to develop him as a player, but not just as a player; they explained that they wanted to develop him as an individual, and give him the skills that he needed for life past college graduation. However, they also explained to him the harsh realities of the life that he chose—the fact that when he signed that contract, he became an unofficial ambassador (a representative) of that specific university and their football program; this meant that everything he said and did would reflect not just on Darnelle, but on the university.

They also explained to Darnelle, that due to his behavior in high school, he could lose his opportunity to play college football—before he even began college…and once word got out why he got kicked out of the program, no reputable university football program would even think about touching him. Why? simply put: he was a bad gamble and no one wanted to deal with an embarrassing (and costly) athletic scandal. The stakes truly were high indeed.

Darnelle and I had been meeting weekly since his junior year and he was making a lot of progress in the program. He had also been meeting weekly with the college coach and monthly with the sports psychologist. Darnelle hadn’t taken his mother’s or his coach’s advice and had been dating a young woman for several months, however he recently had gone through a break up, and when this happened, he went off, losing his temper during and after several practices. He was becoming unglued and we needed to get him re-focused.

“My D-A-D is Coming to See Me!”

Now that you know the back story, fast forward to why Darnelle was jumping in my office and why my boss responded the way she did. It was January and he had only one semester until his high school graduation. He had worked hard to pass all his classes as well as to complete his athletic, and mental health goals. He had gotten a jump on sending out one of his high school graduation invitations and was wildly waving an envelope in my face. I grabbed it out of his hand, and all I could hear him repeating over and over again was “He’s coming to see me…I can’t believe it! He’s really coming to see…me! He’s coming…just for me!” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Right before my eyes were the words, “I’m your father and I’m coming for your graduation.”

Darnelle’s father hadn’t been involved in his life, but since the beginning of his junior year, he had begun to try to be involved in his life again—but Darnelle wasn’t buying it. He thought the only reason why he was interested  now was because Darnelle had made it big.  Anyhow, as his counselor, I didn’t want anger and resentment to negatively affect Darnelle, and recommended that he forgive his father. Forgiveness, after all, isn’t something that someone does for others, but first, for themselves, and for their own wellbeing.

Daddy Issues

Research proves that it’s super-unhealthy to carry around grudges, so forgiveness makes the most logical sense—not just physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well. However, reconciliation with his father was another matter, altogether. I don’t think it’s ever wise or healthy to allow someone who has a history of being emotionally toxic or dysfunctional access to your heart. In fact the Bible wisely counsels: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).

So, from the beginning of our time together during counseling, we had been focusing on Darnelle’s relationship—or lack of it—with his father. Regardless of whatever decision he made about his father, I didn’t want that to be something that caused him to trip up and lose his scholarship and the NFL. But, to be honest, his father had spent the last two years patiently and consistently trying to be there for Darnelle.

Darnelle admitted that he didn’t know what he was thinking when he initially sent his father the first invitation to his high school graduation, he was sure glad that he did, though. But when his father told him that he would be coming to watch him graduate, it was like all the hurt and pain of eighteen years, just all came out. We spent the rest of that session writing his father a letter about how he felt about his absence from his life and learning about his acceptance of his invitation.

Relationship Building

Since learning that his father would be coming to his graduation, they began daily and weekly phone calls and monthly in person visits. Darnelle is a different guy now. He’s still a high school senior football player, but he’s no longer a ticking time-bomb. Knowing that his father knows him, cares about him, and loves him has made all the difference in the world to him. At our most recent meeting, he said “before, I felt that nothing I did was good enough, ’cause I didn’t know my father, but now that I know him, and I know that he loves me and has my back…no matter what I do, or don’t do, it’s like that totally takes the pressure off and I can just relax and be myself and chill. It’s like I don’t have to try, to like, impress anybody. I just wish that I could have had this feeling, like, growing up.”

“My D-A-D can Get Us In for Free!”

I grew up in central Florida—Apopka, to be exact.  It is surface-of-the-sun hot and there are greenhouses and farms everywhere! Dad was (and still is) an amazing farmer and when I was a kid, on weekends, me and my two brothers would work HARD outside helping him keep up the several acres of property he owned. I can’t speak for my brothers but the reason I worked so hard was that I was afraid of what my father would do to me when I disobeyed and secondly, because he would always promise to take us to Rock Springs. actually the proper name is Kelly Park.

Kelly Park was a wondrous place where Dad would grill out, we would eat junk food and have spring-water cooled slices of watermelon until we were ready to pop! It was a great childhood. The only problem was was that every Saturday and Sunday the park filled to capacity by mid-morning and there was a waiting line of cars many miles deep. But that wasn’t a problem for us because my father worked for The Orange County Department of Parks & Recreation. That meant that he knew every employee and park ranger —and we never had to wait. We would arrive at the back of the line and Dad would tell us “hold onto something boys” and drive on the shoulder or ditch to the gate. Needless to say that the other people who were waiting in line were very upset and angry—we learned a lot of vocabulary words that weren’t appropriate for anybody to use—much less our young, innocent-cherubic ears.

Dad would pull up to the gate, roll his window down, say “hello” to whatever park ranger was there that day, and we would enter—did I mention that Dad never had to pay? Then to make things more amazing, there were always the best parking spaces available, because he would always park in the “Employee” parking.

Every time we went there, I felt like a king. When I got old enough to drive and had a car of my own, I would come with my friends and dates and I was still able to get in without waiting in any lines and paying and I was able to park in the sweetest spots. If the employees didn’t know me by my face, I simply had to say one phrase that consisted of five simple words: “Frank Miranda is my Dad” and presto! The entire park was open and available to me.

I share that story because it illustrates this week’s main idea, and that is this: we need to learn to view God as Someone who we can approach and who is intensely interested in our daily lives, simply because He loves us—no strings attached. Once we internalize that truth, we can begin to live in the knowledge of the fact that God made it all, owns it all, and He’s dying to get to know us.

“My D-A-D is G-O-D!”

This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when He shared this truth with His disciples: “ ‘This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy,’ ” . . . ‘So don’t worry about these things, saying, What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (6: 9, 31-33, emphasis mine, NLT).

When Jesus’ disciples heard this perspective, they were blown away! You see, until Jesus flipped the script, so to speak, the conventional religious understanding of the day was that God was housed in the Most Holy Place in the Temple and that the only way that a regular sinful person could access and interact with Him was through a priest; and even then, God was perceived as Someone who was…well, God!

He was perceived as a scary, powerful, and basically other-worldly Being. But Jesus told us, “no, God is like a father, and not just any father, He’s your father!” And as an earthly father loves his children and wants to do special things for them (I certainly hope this has been your experience with your father—but if it hasn’t been, God wants to be there for you), God is also tripping over Himself to do the same! We need to learn to view God as Someone who knows us, loves us, is concerned about us, and who we can readily approach.

No Pressure

Once you wrap your head around that truth, then this is a true life-changer. You can begin the new year with the right perspective about who we need to be in relationship with. We can act like Darnelle and take the pressure off of ourselves and settle into living life to please God—not because we’re worried about keeping Him happy with us, but because we know that His love and acceptance of us isn’t performance-based—and He loves us, no matter what!

So I hope that you will come to understand that all God wants to do is to have a relationship with you and love you. After all, He’s done all the hard work of making it happen by sending His Son, Jesus to make it possible “ ‘For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him’ ” (John 3:16, 17, NLT). He’s waiting for your answer. I hope it’ll be “Yes!”

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