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DAD, IF YOU ONLY KNEW ...eight things teens want to tell their dads (but don't)
By Josh Weidmann Jim Weidmann
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2005 Josh Weidmann and James Weidmann
All right reserved.
NOT TOO LONG AGO I was speaking at a high school in the South. Right in the middle of my talk in the school's old theater auditorium, I heard a garbled yell from the balcony. It was a girl's voice and sounded something like: "THEY WON'T DO IT!"
I didn't understand her, so in front of everyone I stopped and asked her what she said. She ducked down and ignored my question, and not knowing what else to do, I decided to keep going with the rest of my speech. Afterward, the principal of the school pulled me aside and apologized for the girl's actions.
"She has a really bad home life," he said. "I don't think she's got many friends here. Her teachers tell me she has a tough time in class ..." Mid-sentence, his eyes looked away. I could tell by his look that someone was now standing behind me. I turned around to find that girl. She opened her mouth without saying anything, then darted off toward the bathroom. I called her back. The principal offered his office. Before we had even sat down, she began to cry.
"Nobody loves me," she said between sobs. I was floored by how quickly she got to the core issue.
"What do you mean nobody loves you?" I asked. "Surely somebody loves you."
"My dad hates me," she said. "He's hardly in my life at all. He doesn't even acknowledge me when we're in the same room. My dad tells me straight to my face that I'm the greatest mess-up of his life."
The girl pulled up her sleeves to show me long red and black marks on her arms. The night before she had cut along the veins of her arms and jabbed herself with a hot metal rod. She was not kidding. I found it hard to keep breathing. She needed more help than I could provide in a short space of time, but I wanted to clarify something.
"What did you yell from the balcony?" I asked. Her shout had come right at the point when I was telling the student body to reach out to kids who aren't accepted.
"I'm one of those kids you were talking about," she whispered. "I'm one of the ones nobody accepts. I yelled, 'They won't do it!,' because I know they won't reach out. No one has ever reached for me."
How I wish I could say this girl's story was uncommon.
About a month later I was speaking at a weekend youth conference. One night a junior high-aged boy told me about how his dad repeatedly told him he was just one big mistake. The boy lifted the front of his shirt to show me his chest. All across his skin were red streaks. I had never seen anything like it before.
"My dad told me I was just a huge mistake that just needed to be wiped away," he said. "So I took a pencil eraser and tried to erase myself."
This was a new one for me. I prayed that God would give me the right words to say next.
"Do you really think you can get rid of yourself with a pencil eraser?"
"Nah," he said. His voice fell. "I just hoped my dad would notice the marks and give me some attention."
We stood there a few minutes in silence. Finally I had the courage to ask, "Did it work? I mean, did your dad notice?"
Maybe these are extreme examples compared to what you're experiencing in your home, but the themes are more common than you might think. What I see across the country is this: As teens seek approval and love, they'll go to extreme measures to get it from their parents-particularly their dads. If they don't get attention from their parents, they go elsewhere to get their needs met, and along the way signs will appear. Your teen may not be cutting her wrists or taking a pencil eraser to himself. Maybe it's breaking curfew, getting a tongue piercing, or wearing a skimpy dress that you disapprove of. Teens will use whatever they can to get the attention of their fathers. Sometimes teens tell me their fathers simply write off this type of behavior as "going through a rebellious stage." But I don't think defiance is the core issue with most teens I talk to. I think the issue is a cry for attention.
Do you see the good news here? Hearing a cry from a teenager is an opportunity for a dad. Probably the most influential person in a teen's life, good or bad, is their father. That is why I'm writing this book! Teens want you to know: "Dad, I need you." It's so simple, but so important.
COLUMBINE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
In many ways my ministry right now is one of listening. But I didn't set out to make this happen. God used a horrible tragedy to bring me to this place.
April 20, 1999, was a warm spring day in Littleton, Colorado. I was a junior at Arapahoe High School, sitting in a life skills class where a guest speaker, a county sheriff, was talking to us about the dangers of drinking and driving. Our vice principal normally taught the class, but that day for some reason I could see him through the window pacing in the hallway.
It became a game to me-counting how many times the vice principal walked past the window. Five, six, seven ... Boy, he must really be churning on something. Eight, nine, ten ... He looked more worried than he usually did. Eleven, twelve, thirteen ... I remember keeping track of his pacing with little ticks on my notebook.
And he stopped.
It was as if he finally found the words he was searching for. Suddenly, our vice principal burst into our classroom. I remember his statement exactly.
"There's been a shooting at Columbine High School," he said. He had tears and terror in his eyes. "They say the gunmen are coming here next."
Columbine was four miles from my high school. The kids at Columbine were all our neighbors, kids we played with on our community sports teams, kids we went to elementary school with. Our schools had a huge, good-hearted soccer rivalry. Nearly everyone in my class knew someone at Columbine.
All around me in class kids started crying. We were on the second floor, and I remember wondering how we were going to make it outside. My school immediately went into lockdown, where no one could get in or out of the building. Our principal came on the loudspeaker and gave more details. Soon we all retreated downstairs, and all the students filed into the cafeteria, where teachers were setting up a row of TV monitors. Outside, I could see a long line of parents' cars beginning to rush to our school.
I remember being able to pick out individual faces on the TV screens-faces I knew. I saw my friend Craig Nason run out of Columbine along with other frantic students, hands behind their heads so they wouldn't get mistaken for gunmen. Craig was the leader of the Columbine High School prayer group and part of a movement I helped start a year earlier called Revival Generation, a handful of students who made it their aim to begin prayer groups in every high school campus in Littleton. By then we had established thirty-five groups all across Colorado, as well as in several other states. That day I remember praying for Craig like I had never prayed before.
It's strange, the words and actions that come to you in times of crisis. As we all watched the TV screens, I remember blurting out, "We have to pray-right now!" There in the cafeteria of a public high school, in the middle of all two thousand students, a few hundred students and staff alike put their arms around each other's shoulders and formed the largest prayer circle I've ever seen within the walls of our school. Someone asked if what we were doing was legal. Someone else said, "Who cares-our friends are getting shot at."
That day was such a day of horror and confusion. Later we would learn that two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had gone on a shooting rampage inside the school. They killed twelve students and one teacher before committing suicide. Another twenty-four students and teachers were injured. Today, the Columbine massacre is considered the worst school shooting in U.S. history. For me, like so many others, that day is just one huge dark spot in my memory.
In the aftermath, so many questions were asked, including what provoked the killers and whether anything could have been done to prevent the crime. The morning after Columbine, the phone in my parents' house rang at 7 a.m. Somehow word had gotten out to the media about Revival Generation-about how a group of teenagers in the same city as the Columbine shootings had formed prayer groups. The phone rang all day long and for weeks afterward. Members of our group, including me, ended up talking to Newsweek, Time, Oprah, CBS, NBC, ABC, Nightline, a news show from Germany-all in all, forty news media appearances.
Topics of discussion ranged from social cliques in high school to feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and depression among teenagers. Anytime anyone from our group talked, we wanted people to know that whatever the reasons for this horror, there is still hope in the world-and that this hope is found in Jesus Christ.
Those were days of huge sadness for my friends and me-in spite of all the hype. Everyone sort of walked around in a fog. Yet I also believe that the Lord spoke through a bunch of committed teenagers during that time. Two friends of mine since fourth grade, brothers Steve and Jon Cohen, together with their youth pastor Andy Millar, wrote and sang a song called "Friend of Mine Columbine" at a community-wide memorial service held several days after the shootings. (Vice president Al Gore, Franklin Graham, Michael W. Smith, and Amy Grant were in attendance.)
The Cohens' song talked about how guns could end dreams, but how peace and hope could be found in Jesus Christ. Jon, Steve, myself, and our friends were all used by God in great and humbling ways. Reporter Jean Torkelson from the Denver Rocky Mountain News said it this way: "When the two killers opened their Pandora's box of horrors, they seemed to have unintentionally sparked a Christian revolution."
God is continually teaching me the importance of availability. As His Spirit moves within my generation, it has been neat to see how He can take an insignificant guy like me and use me in significant ways. Ever since the Columbine tragedy, God has opened doors for me to speak to youth around the country an average of twice a month. Doors simply opened one by one, and I responded in faith. It's a bit crazy at times. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed. Since Columbine, I've spoken at DCLA 2000 and Creation Fest on both coasts, with the Billy Graham Association, Focus on the Family, Reach Out, First Priority, and Youth for Christ. I've been the main stage speaker at the Louisiana Baptist Youth Conference and the Wisconsin and Indiana United Methodist Youth Gatherings.
Everywhere I go, I speak with the sole purpose of helping students come to know God so that they can make Him known. Speaking at events is a God thing. It is not about me at all. I'm just a kid myself in many ways. As of the writing of this book, I'm a senior in college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I'm humbled by God's calling every time I get up on stage.
I want you to know up front that this isn't a book where I aim to give any advice on parenting. Right now I'm twenty-three years old, not a parent, and I have no intentions of writing a book on a subject I haven't experienced yet. This book is about what teens tell me. You'll hear from real teens. Sometimes their names have been changed if the subject matter is confidential, but each of the stories I tell is true. As I speak to teens, they speak to me. And what they have to say is so important that I want you to hear it too.
From time to time in the chapters that follow, I'm also going to weave in some thoughts from my dad, Jim Weidmann. My dad is The Family Night Guy, a radio show on parenting featured on about three hundred stations across the country. He also serves as executive director of Heritage Builders Ministry, a health, education, and development service for parents from Focus on the Family. He and my mom, Janet, have four kids of their own-me, my brother Jake, and my sisters, Janae and Joy. I'm the oldest. I love and respect my dad so much and I truly believe that if anyone knows something about parenting, it's him.
DAD, YOUR TEEN NEEDS YOU
Think of me as a young reporter, telling you what I've seen and heard on the frontlines from the teens we both care about so deeply. In the chapters ahead, I'll tell you the good and bad of it-because I believe dads do want to hear what teens are saying. In fact, I believe dads must hear it, because what I'm hearing is absolutely vital to every father's success.
Dads, this is a book where you get to eavesdrop on the teen you love so much-or someone who probably thinks a lot like him or her. The bottom line from what I'm hearing is this: Dad, no matter how frustrated or limited you feel today, no one can replace you in your teen's life.
I know that meeting the needs of teens is not always easy. Often it involves pain, it requires prayer, it only comes through patience, and it means that dads must be persistent. But the rewards in family relationships and your teen's future are great. Even eternal.
If that sounds worthwhile to you, I invite you to keep reading.
Excerpted from DAD, IF YOU ONLY KNEW ... by Josh Weidmann Jim Weidmann Copyright © 2005 by Josh Weidmann and James Weidmann. Excerpted by permission.
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