I have what it takes
My father was a military man. I loved him to bits. He was a man of stature; both physically and in rank. I was very proud of him and I can remember specific occasions which made me feel even more proud than usual. Like the times we would drive to his base camp in his big old Mercedes-Benz. We would be saluted by the guards at the gate and by everyone else in uniform as we made our way to the main building where his office was. Once there, we would walk into his big office at the end of the corridor – an office befitting to the senior rank he held with flags on both sides of his huge wooden desk. The walls were decorated with honorary awards of all kinds. Throughout his office, there were all sorts of interesting artefacts: Spent cannon shells, bayonets and scale models of military vehicles. Photographs of friends and foes with a story to each them scattered throughout. His office kept me busy for hours.
He was a senior officer, and I was the senior officer’s son – a title I keenly assigned to myself as if it was a rank in its own right. I believed that my dad could conquer the world! He was able to order the mobilisation of tanks and cannons and other armoured vehicles in a matter of hours. The politics and authorisations around doing was unknown to me, obviously. The way I saw it, he had what it took to move and shake the world! And because I was his son, I believed I had that too.
But I didn’t always feel this way about my dad. He did not always act honourably and principled. There were times when his short temper would get the better of him and he would take it out on me. There were times when he would say things without thinking. Things that he didn’t really mean and would not have said had he thought it through.
One specific day – I must have been about nine or ten years old – my dad said to me: “Why are you not more like so and so?” He was referring to a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what the context was, but I remember that he wanted me to be more like someone else’s son. He wasn’t happy with the way I was put together – with the only me I knew how to be. Or at least, this is how I felt. From that moment on, I could sense my “not having what it takes” in almost every interaction with that friend of mine. In that very moment, my self-esteem was gone – stolen unintentionally.
Although he probably only said it to me once on that specific occasion, it kept replaying in my head, over and over a hundred times. It became like a broken record – something I wasn’t able to stop that kept on repeating itself in my mind. It became part of my inner voice. In my mind, I declared that I did not have what it takes. Why? Because my dad said so. The guy in uniform – my ultimate figure of authority. If he said so, it had to be true.
You may wonder how it is possible for me to still remember that incident of so long ago. But we all have incidents like that. Just get over it, dude! Well, I believe I have. But it probably took me three decades to figure out that I DO actually have what it takes – in so many ways! Ways that are totally unique to me; that taps into my traits, abilities and personality to create a package of valuable service to those around me. I discovered that I could be of great service to man and God alike – very fulfilling experience!
I believe that my dad probably struggled with the same burden I struggled with. I wonder if his father ever took him on his knee and told him that he loved him and that he had what it takes – that he was so proud of him. I doubt it. I never asked him about it because he died when I was 15.
How can a man’s heart be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak if he does not know that he is loved? And how can his character be strong and steadfast if someone didn’t tell him that he has what it takes? But there is someone very special that can make magic happen in a little boy – someone who can make him believe that he has what it takes – better than anyone else. That someone is his daddy. No one else will be able to say to him – with more effect and credibility – that he has what it takes. No one else can do it like dad. A son yearns to hear it from his father.
We can share with our boys what it takes to be a man. We can guard and direct their minds so they can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. We can pray with them daily to teach them where their Strength lies. We can teach them to work hard and play hard and to be brave in the face of danger. We can encourage them to stand up for what they believe in. But all of these concepts will only blossom in a young man whose dad took him on his knee and told him that he has what it takes.