Being made in God’s image, male and female, He made us to fill and subdue the earth and represent His multifaceted character to all generations. God uniquely purposed men to lead their own families.
But much to the vexation of modern
culture, God placed a cause and effect association between a child’s understanding of the nature of God and his or her relationship with an earthly father figure. A
difficult biblical truth — and what an overwhelming responsibility!
What personal qualities, motivations and life circumstances contribute to becoming a good dad? Three Houston’s First men share their own joys and challenges of fatherhood.
Medical scares with two of Mike Jones’ three children have played a huge role in shaping him as a dad. His and wife Bonnie’s firstborn, Tyler, was nearly 10 weeks premature, creating a stress-filled beginning to family life. Audrey, their third child and only daughter, was diagnosed at age four with a rare form of adrenal gland cancer.
Houston’s First staff member Steven Murray was nearly 38 when he married Amanda Gray, who had a young son from a previous marriage. Steven never expected to become an instant dad when he found the love of his life, but he embraced and developed a sweet relationship with three-and-a-half year-old Braden during his courtship with Amanda.
“I knew early on that Amanda was ‘the one’,” said Steven, “and because of that, I knew being a dad to Braden was part of the deal.” Braden and Steven’s “guy nights” began while he and Amanda were dating. When Steven proposed to Amanda, Steven also asked Braden if he could be his daddy. Steven’s self-imposed boundaries to guard Braden’s heart from unfulfilled expectations were relaxed, and Steven began to “court” Braden as his son.
“I said my vows to Amanda during the wedding ceremony and turned to Braden to recite ‘A Father’s Promise,’” said Steven. “It included biblical promises God made to his children — to be faithful, steadfast, loving; and to do all I can to be a reflection of God, the Father, to Braden.”
Braden himself broke through Steven’s pre-engagement boundaries by calling Steven “Daddy” for the first time at the wedding reception. Discussions about adopting Braden began after their marriage in 2008. Though his biological father had never been involved, Steven and Amanda were concerned about backlash, so they put the subject on the back burner.
In May 2012, a sore muscle that wouldn’t heal sent Braden to the pediatrician, who saw red spots on his chest and issued Amanda instructions to head straight to the emergency room. The diagnosis: an aggressive form of leukemia. Braden’s chemotherapy treatments began and so did adoption proceedings. “With Braden’s life on the line, we all the more wanted him to be declared my son,” recalls Steven. “Amanda and I put our fears aside and trusted God as we pursued adoption.”
Intense chemotherapy sent Braden into remission within just a few weeks, but active treatment was ongoing until May 2014. For four years, Steven and Amanda have accompanied Braden to Texas Children’s Hospital for his monthly check ups. After much prayer — and holding their breath — the family has been relieved to hear that all is still well.
Braden officially began signing his last name Murray when the adoption was finalized in the summer of 2013, four years after he welcomed into the family a brother, Wilson, now 7, and two years after welcoming a sister, Caroline, now 4.
“I loved my dad a lot,” said Gary Zallar, who at 53 is the same age his dad was when he died more than 40 years ago. “I think about how my dad must have felt about the pressures of life at this age and wonder if he had the same insecurities — like ‘Am I doing the right things?’”
Gary says when he thinks about being a parent to his son Tim, a college sophomore in Arizona, he can’t help but think about his “awesome wife, Ann.” He was 23 when he met Ann,
who was 19. “I led Ann to Jesus,” he says. The young couple purposed early in their marriage not to argue in front of any children they might have.
“Being a good husband and father begins with my relationship with Jesus — walking daily with Him,” said Gary. “Doing that makes my relationships with others so much better.”
Early on, Gary and Ann became involved in parenting classes such as Growing Kids God’s Way, where they met and shared with other couples the challenges of parenting; and Parenting by Design, a class that taught them how, among other things, to help kids work through their mistakes. They researched, read and took a variety of classes to help them become more equipped.
Gary recalls an encounter that changed his relationship with Tim. “I’d ask him something and he wouldn’t answer my question,” said Gary. “I asked, ‘Son, why don’t you answer me?’ Tim countered, ‘You never wait to hear my answer.’ I was too impatient to wait as he thought about his answer. I admitted to Tim then and there that I’m not a perfect person.”
Though Gary grew up one of five kids in Colorado Springs, a military town, for him the Armed Services never held much allure. “Joining ROTC was a big step for Tim,” said Gary. “He got a great scholarship and doors opened for him.” After college, Tim will enter the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant. Fearing for his safety, Gary questioned the wisdom of Tim’s decision. Tim told his dad that he felt called by God to go into the military.
“Ultimately, parenting is about helping our kids become who God wants them to be instead of trying to make them into
our own image,” said Gary.