Read an Excerpt
A FATHER'S ADVICE ON BEING A MAN
By DAVE BRUSKAS
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dave Bruskas
All rights reserved.
October 11, 2013
Tonight we celebrated what would have been your twenty-second birthday. I was on the road with your older sister, Lisa, her husband, Tobin, and your younger sisters Lauren and Jennifer in Lubbock, Texas. We had a late night party at Chili's, complete with chips, salsa, skillet cookies, and ice cream. It was an inexpensive but fun evening. I think the waiter was hoping we would rack up a bigger tab, but I tipped him well. Your mom remained in Seattle with Jillian. They, too, would have joined us so we could all be together, but Jillian couldn't break free from her commitment as a Roosevelt High School cheerleader. David, you would be so proud of your sisters. They are smart, strong, loving, and happy. They have become the young women that I prayed they would be, which is a miracle in itself, as I have been far from the perfect dad. I still don't understand women, but I am really thankful for them.
Your birthday is the hardest day of the year for our family each and every year. In a surprising way, it is far more difficult than the day that marks your death. It causes us to dream about what could have been if you were still with us today. We have a tradition on your birthday where each family member answers two questions: What is your favorite memory of David? and What do you think he would be like if he were with us today? I love how your three younger sisters, who never met you, talk about memories of you as if they were actually there while you were alive. I feel like your mom really has done a beautiful job of including them all in your life. We are very specific in our descriptions of what you would be like today. Everything from your height and weight and hair color to the clothes you would wear and the teams you would pull for. Everyone is convinced you would have been tall and thin with wavy brown hair. Your sisters think you would have liked music. We're all certain you would have been a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan because that is a birthright in the Bruskas home. But who really knows for sure?
What I do know for sure is that we miss you so much. We each have an ache in our hearts that varies in pain but never goes away. Your birthday is a tough day. Mostly, we cry a lot. I always make sure to give your mom flowers. They remind her you are with Jesus and a reunion is coming someday.
Every year on this day, I also think about what I would have wanted for your life. The truth is, although I would have had many dreams and ambitions for you, I really would have wanted only one thing. I would have wanted you to be a man who lives for Jesus. Everything else is flexible and tends to fall into place when a man lives for Jesus. But even if everything seems to be going well for a man—except for knowing Jesus—life is empty and failed.
The apostle Paul tells his spiritual son, Timothy, "I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Timothy 1:4-5). I would love to say the same words to you. If you were still with us, I would want to know that such faith—the faith that dwelt in Kathleen, your great-grandmother; and in Tom and Betty and Dale and Mary, your grandparents; and in your mom and me; and dwells in your sisters, Lisa, Lauren, Jennifer, and Jillian—also would dwell in you and your children and your grandchildren. I would love to have seen you be another link in the chain of faith through generations of people who have our same last name!
Happy birthday, David! I miss you. There's not an hour that passes that I don't think about you. While I want to live a long life if that helps your mom and your sisters, I will be more than ready when my time comes to join you and Jesus.
Until then, know I love you, Dad
* * *
How is life working for you? Being a young man, as I recall (although it has been a while), is really very good. You are as energetic and strong as you will ever be. You are also free and unencumbered. Free to pursue the work of your choosing. Free to pursue women. Mostly free to live where you want and do what you want when you want. Free to pursue, as our Founding Fathers desired, life, liberty, and happiness. Right now, you are free to go after all that you want from the world. But what if your freedom is blinding you to what actually may be enslaving you? What if, in the energy and idealism of young manhood, you are in the process of losing the only thing that matters while chasing everything else? Jesus warned everyone, including young men, with this terrifying question: "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
I was more of a boy than a young man when I saw how empty life could be. I grew up in a very loving home. Both of my parents worked hard to provide for my needs. They also did everything they could to protect me from danger. They nurtured me and guided me toward a good and decent life. But for the first eleven years of my life, my parents weren't Christians. And I'm sure I wasn't either.
We did attend church once or twice a year with my grandma. She would bribe us with the promise of an after-church brunch at her country club. My dad owned a small and struggling lumberyard, and my mom was a bookkeeper. They weren't country club material, so getting to go with Grandma was a real treat. I didn't like church, but pulling endless clumps of bacon from a silver tray using tongs was more than worth the hour of suffering I had to endure in church.
I found church to be creepy and confusing. The building's high ceilings, hidden balconies, tall curtains, dark corners, stained-glass windows, and musty, padded pews led me to think I was worshiping a ghostly god in his haunted house. The robed choir didn't help ease my fears. Worst of all were the bizarre sounds of the pipe organ, played loudly as if to summon the ghostly god to come out and haunt his houseguests.
To my juvenile mind, the point of all this seemed to be scaring me into living a good life so this god would bless me rather than punish me. I would be frightened into sharing with my little brother, telling grown-ups the truth, and making good grades in school. At least I would be for a week. Then I was supposed to come back the next Sunday, because the impact of church seemed to have a six-day shelf life. This was like a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. It certainly wasn't my grandma's fault that I felt this way. Truthfully, it wasn't the church's fault either. I would find out later that my perception was really distorted. I was blind and deaf to what actually was happening.
My childhood was mostly happy. My dad loved sports, hunting, fishing, and most of all, his sons. So he religiously put together the things he loved, and we all had a great time, especially on weekends. My mom was caring, nurturing, and hardworking. She always made sure we were well prepared for each day. Our family was healthy in nearly every way but one: we were spiritually bankrupt. No matter how many things are right, if this one thing is wrong, everything else is too.
My dad was agnostic and was hostile toward religion. Mom considered herself a Christian because of her up bringing in church. She was mildly religious. But she seemed as uncomfortable at Grandma's church as the rest of us. Her life slowly was coming apart because of an alcohol addiction.
Mom was a binge drinker. I remember being at several parties with her as a child—parties that would end with Dad carrying her to the car as we left, suddenly and with much embarrassment. No one felt worse about this problem than Mom. So much so, that as she arrived one night at a New Year's Eve party, she began weeping even before she took her first drink. She knew what was coming: the night would end with her being carried to the car as a sloppy, drunken mess.
But this party wouldn't be like the others. This night would end very differently. Soon our whole family would change forever.
One of Mom's friends compassionately noticed her tears. This woman carefully listened to her story of shame. The woman then did something unexpected. She invited my mom to join her and some other women at a weekly meeting to study the Bible. Mom first went out of desperation. Desperation turned to hope as she grew to know the Jesus she had heard preached and sung about in church for most of her life. My mom became a Christian and was transformed. No more drinking binges. No more lampshade-wearing, vomit-soaked partying. No more shame and no more guilt. One change among all the others impressed me most. She loved my dad, my little brother, and me better than she had before. She always had been a kind and good mom, but now she was more loving and happier than before. But for me, at least, there was a huge downside to her conversion. My little brother, Bill, and I now had to go with her to church every Sunday instead of just twice a year. And there was no bonus of country-club bacon anymore.
We went to a lot of different churches. It seems as if we tried every one in town until Mom found one that she believed fit our family. My dad, as devoutly agnostic as one could be (it seems odd to be passionately certain about something you profess you aren't sure of ), refused to go with us. He was my golden ticket out of church. As long as he held out, I knew I could miss a fair number of Sundays in the woods hunting, or at the lake fishing, or even yelling with him at the TV set as we watched the Dallas Cowboys.
Then, much to my dismay, he showed up at the breakfast table one Sunday morning before church wearing his favorite powder-blue leisure suit. He announced, "If this is the only way I can spend time with my family on Sunday mornings, then I will go to church." My goal to be a casual and in frequent church attender was dashed. I wasn't happy. I couldn't hold out on church. But I certainly could hold out as long as needed to avoid becoming a Christian. Or so I thought.
I really don't exactly remember how long my dad attended church before he, too, became a Christian. I just recall being disappointed in how rapidly he went from being a religious agnostic to a born-again believer. Surprisingly, it wasn't going to church that led to his conversion. It was watching the television series Jesus of Nazareth that captured his heart. His conversion was every bit as dramatic as my mom's. If there was a single characteristic that defined his transformation—much like with Mom—it was the radical love he had for his family. It was a newer, deeper, more loyal and joyful love than we had ever seen before. This surprised me because I thought being a Christian was about doing all the right things while avoiding all the wrong things. I quickly learned it had much more to do with love. This wasn't a Hallmark-card, sticky-and-sloppy type of love but a sacrificial, active, and thick love. It was a love that looked like the type of love Jesus said he had for his disciples: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" ( John 15:13). More than ever before, I saw the many ways my mom and dad sacrificed themselves for my brother and me. While I was very skeptical of their new beliefs, I was compelled by their new lifestyle.
After my parents became Christians, I began to feel pressure to become one too. Not so much from them. They made me go to church with them, but beyond talking a lot about the Bible and Jesus, they didn't force their beliefs on me. Yet every time I went to church, I felt a pull in the pit of my stomach, especially when the preacher would invite people to walk to the front of the sanctuary at the end of the service and publicly give their lives to Jesus. My prejudice—that Christianity was just another world religion to help people cope with the unanswerable questions about life and death—began to fade. To me, Christianity was becoming less about a philosophy or lifestyle and more and more about the person of Jesus, this man who claimed to be God, and who backed up his claim by rising from the dead. At least that's what those who believed in him told me.
The more pressure I felt to become a Christian, the stronger my resistance toward church grew. I took a flyer that was mailed to my house inviting me to a youth retreat and hid it in the trash. I knew my parents would make me go if they saw it. The day before the retreat began, I went to school confident I had succeeded. I would be shooting hoops with my unbelieving buddies while my churchy friends studied their Bibles on the retreat. While I was in class, my youth pastor called my parents to personally request that I attend. I came home to the bad news of my fate and two days later had the most profound conversation of my life.
Vern was a youth pastor from Missouri. He was leading my small group during the weekend retreat. He asked if we could meet one-on-one. I thought this request was really strange but agreed anyway. When we met, he opened up the Bible and with laser precision read verses that confirmed what I was beginning to understand about Jesus. He was real. He was God. He had unfinished business with me. He wanted to forgive me for all my active and passive rebellion. He wanted to free me to live my life for him moving forward. I felt two strong, paradoxical emotions simultaneously. On one hand, I had the deepest remorse for resisting this Jesus who had pursued me. I realized I was responsible for his brutal death. I was cut to the heart. Strangely, at the very same time, I felt Jesus loved me rather than hated me and would accept me. I also felt he could change me. He was going to give me a new life instead of killing me for opposing him. That's exactly what he did!
With Vern right there with me, I prayed to Jesus. I told Jesus I wanted to be forgiven and freed. I told him I hated my sin and wanted to leave it all behind. I also told him I loved him and wanted to follow him for the rest of my life. On Saturday evening, March 10, 1979, I turned from sin and trusted in the person and work of Jesus. I was born again. I was converted.
A change of heart and mind came upon me at the very same time in life that my voice and body were changing, my very own mid-puberty conversion. Both were drastic. I quickly grew to love the Bible. I read it every chance I could get. I loved my family more than I ever had before. I even loved my little brother. I really loved telling my friends who didn't know Jesus about him. And some of them, too, met Jesus just as I had.
I also began to love the church. I loved being in worship services and now understood what was happening. I loved being with other Christians and hearing about what Jesus was doing in their lives. Probably more than anything else, I enjoyed connecting my friends who didn't yet know Jesus with those who already did.
Maybe you have a loving father who brought you to church and sent you on Christian retreats. But please don't feel a sense of hopelessness if your biological father hasn't helped you to meet Jesus. Maybe you don't have a reliable earthly father who loves Jesus. Maybe you don't have a reliable earthly father period. You may have nothing but a legacy of wrongs, losses, and pain. But there is hope for you to meet Jesus and become the man he calls you to be, even if you lack a positive legacy and a good biological father. Timothy, from the Bible, found such a man in Paul.
Timothy was raised in an ancient city called Lystra, in modern-day Turkey. Acts 16 mentions that his mother was a devout Jewish Christian. All we know about Timothy's dad is that he was ethnically a Greek. There is no mention of his faith. It would seem that Paul stepped in and took on the spiritual responsibility that was entrusted to Timothy's biological dad. We read in the Bible that Timothy and Paul were very close. It is quite possible that Paul led Timothy to Jesus. It also is a possibility that Timothy, as a young man, watched his spiritual father being stoned by an angry mob. Left to die, Paul miraculously recovered and continued on with his ministry. (You can read about that in Acts 14:19-21.) Imagine the trauma and emotional scars young Timothy would have felt! His biological dad wasn't helpful, and Timothy almost lost the man who was most helpful to him to a murderous mob. That sounds much like the pain I find in so many young men today.
Max grew up in a rough part of town, without a dad. He soon found an alternative to his dysfunctional family in a street gang. Young manhood began for Max before he even became a teenager. He was dealing drugs and having sex by the time he was twelve years old. He became a cocaine addict. When I first met Max, he already was stricken with AIDS, was in the throes of addiction, and had children of varying ages with several ex-girlfriends. I've seen few lives that were worse than Max's. But then Max met Jesus. And his life, although far from perfect, is being reshaped and redeemed. He's beginning to see God as his true Father. And as he relates to God as his Father, Max is becoming a father to his children.
Excerpted from DEAR SON by DAVE BRUSKAS. Copyright © 2014 Dave Bruskas. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Mark Driscoll vii
Introduction: What I Wish I Could Say to My Son Now xi
Chapter 1 Christian 1
Chapter 2 Son 25
Chapter 3 Brother 41
Chapter 4 Young Man 59
Chapter 5 Provider 77
Chapter 6 Citizen 95
Chapter 7 Member 111
Chapter 8 Husband 131
Chapter 9 Father 151
Chapter 10 Vessel 169
Chapter 11 Mortal 183
About the Author 207