What Billy Graham Can Teach Us About Failing as a Father

“I had no place to go except to my parents’ home. My fears multiplied with every mile. Questions swirled in my mind: What was my life going to be like now? What was I going to say to my parents? What would they say to me? I had failed my children. What kind of example was I? Fear kept my hands on the steering wheel and adrenaline kept my foot on the accelerator. As I rounded the last bend in my parents’ driveway, I saw my father standing there. I parked the car and took a deep breath to try and stifle the flood of emotions I felt. As I got out, my father wrapped his arms around me and said, “Welcome home.” There was no condemnation, no “I told you so,” no guilt or shame.

One of the sureties of my life has been that I know my father loves me unconditionally. Through all my ups and downs, heartbreaks, bad choices and sins, he is constant in his love. I have often said that I wouldn’t compare my father to God, but he has shown me what unconditional love, forgiveness and grace are. My father’s grace and gentleness colour my world.”

I share this story with you because I want you to have hope. Billy Graham’s stories of failure as a father are well recorded, but something must have changed along the way. Somewhere in the story of their family his children began to experience a father who wanted to be like God the Father.

The same God who Billy Graham told millions of people about is the one who loved him and forgave him of his sins. This same God brought healing amid all the brokenness in their family.

The same God who forgave and helped to heal Billy Graham can provide the same forgiveness and healing for you.

If you have failed at fatherhood, here are five things I want to encourage you to consider doing:

1. Ask God to forgive you of your sins and failures as a father.

1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. This is all possible because Jesus took the place for you on the cross. Your sin deserves to be punished, but Jesus took your place. Forgiveness is possible by God’s grace and by your faith in Jesus and His sacrifice for you.

2. Ask God to help you begin to be the father your children deserve.

Begin at the stage of life you find yourself in today. One of the common mistakes is to try and make up for lost time by attempting to redo a previous season. 2 Peter 1:3 says God’s divine power gives us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him. God’s promise is that He will give you everything you need to be a great dad.

3. Write a letter to your children or talk to them.

Tell them all the ways you know you have failed as a father. Ask them to forgive you. This is most appropriate for teenage and adult children. You may have to filter this step with younger children.

4. Be prepared for them to reject you.

You cannot control if they will forgive you or want a relationship with you. All you can control is your love for them.

5. Begin to pursue relationship with them.

Remember, you cannot just step in and be everything we have talked about in this book. It’s a journey of establishing relationship. You may end up missing one of the roles in this book because of lost years in your relationship, but that does not mean that you must lose the relationship. Keep pursuing them and building your relationship. See how God brings healing to your family. This may be more difficult in some relationships. Unless they tell you to leave them alone, don’t ever give up pursuing your children.

Being a father who failed does not need to make you feel hopeless or filled with despair. In fact, being honest about your failures is the beginning of a journey of redemption. Don’t stay where you are. Your kids still need you. Humble yourself—pursue being a better man—pursue the heart of your children.

This article is also in the May/June edition of Seven Magazine from Promise Keepers Canada. Read the entire magazine for free.

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Kirk Giles
Kirk is husband to Shannon, father to four amazing people, and a leader who has been teaching and helping others to follow Jesus since he was 16 years old.