I’ve been a spectator to many two hour conversations between my dad and any number of individual friends, family members or ministry associates. This was my childhood. It seemed that I accompanied my father everywhere. My recollection of summers spent covered in grease and dirt working in a cinder block, tin roof garage were one part nostalgia and another part character building. I reminisce about those marathon discussions about life and making right choices as a young man. I have had many more of these type of conversations over the years–many with my father, but there are other important talks with my elders. I have been blessed to have older men in my life who have decided that its better to give me wisdom than to let me alone. These men are pastors, preachers, businessmen, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Not every man has been blessed by these kind of relationships. Sadly, many have experienced the reverse and as a result there is a generation of boys and men who walk around without wise words coming from gray heads.
In many communities, boys grow up in homes where one parent is present and the model of manhood is the neighborhood ‘mac’. Single mothers have held it down, especially in the black community, but it needs to be reiterated that nothing replaces a father figure. There is nothing like sitting down with an older black man who has been through some stuff. There’s a certain age when authenticity is all that is left–no pretense and no fluff. I remember one of the most uncomfortable conversations that I’ve ever been a part of took place with a friend of my dad’s. The conversation took place shortly before I got married–he attempted to describe the sex act for me, specifically relating it to his own experience. Yes, this was unnecessary and embarrassing. He was a godly man who wanted the best for me and I was grateful that he cared enough to speak into my life. I think a lot of these men realize that they don’t have a lot of time left and they want to give what they have to someone who is willing to listen. A lot of young cats are not willing to listen and they’ve rejected wisdom from the ‘gray heads’. This lack of connection between older and younger generations is probably related to a break in inter-generational influence–perhaps related to the double edge sword of welfare. Recently, an older gentlemen at church pulled me aside and began to give me the gift of wisdom. At the end of the conversation I thanked him. I am one of his pastors, but he was discipling me and supplying me with the benefit of his experience.
Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Barnabas’ relationship with Mark are both dynamic father son combinations. (1 Timothy 1:2) Timothy was a son to Paul and the Apostle poured into this young man his life and experience with Christ so that Timothy could be all that God called him to be. (2 Timothy 3:10) The fruit of one’s labor is sometimes realized in the work of another. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) There aren’t a lot of older men with wisdom in many communities–there are pockets of the wise in barbershops, churches and other inconspicuous places. They are rare, but once you find them they are a prize. The writer of Proverbs says it this way, “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better return than gold.” (3:13-14)
One of the positives of the Million Man March seventeen years ago is that it sought to reintegrate a missing piece of the familial puzzle. Our homes, communities, schools, churches were not meant to be run by women alone–a man’s influence is essential. What started with my father at J.C. Auto Repair in the early 80′s on Parrish Street in North Philly continues as I near my forties. My father-in-law, pastor, peers, brothers, favorite authors, professors–they all give what they can. These wise men are gracious enough to see my folly and to provide an alternate direction–praise God for the gift. I stand at the bus stop with my nine year old at 6:56 AM every weekday morning trying to give him what I received. Hopefully he holds onto some of this wisdom because it will save him from unnecessary pain in life. There is so much that a young buck can receive from an old head.