A Father’s Legacy

The following is a Father’s Day letter I wrote to my sons and sons-in-law. As a dad - both physically and spiritually - I have been given the privilege and duty of bestowing identity and blessing upon my sons and my sons-in-law. The power of life and death is in the words we speak. I want my sons and sons-in-law to know exactly what I think of them. I thought it might bless someone else out there.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…
Proverbs 18:21a NASB

    Father’s Day in 2018 has me pondering what it means to be a father…to be a dad. This is the first Father’s Day I have experienced since my father went home to be with the Lord on August 31, 2017. While I still find myself mourning this loss from time to time since that day, the grief is giving way to little reminders that death is not the end. In fact, if truth be told, I believe my dad is more alive than ever before in his eternal state. Though he was able to leave no earthly inheritance, the legacy he did leave was beyond measure. As I have had time to reflect upon what his legacy was to me, I cannot help but wonder about what legacy I want to leave my children.

    Just what does legacy mean? Legacy is something handed down from the past; an inheritance…or even a physical or personality trait…or a spiritual treasure chest of truth and wisdom. When I think about what my dad left me, my mind goes to a variety of wonderful and weird places. When I sneeze, I think of my dad…because I sneeze just like him. When I play the piano, I often think about the musical gifts of my dad who played both piano and guitar when I was a boy. When I sing, I can’t help but think of my dad being the first man I ever heard sing and how he could drop down an entire octave if a hymn he was leading became too high for him to reach the notes. I think about the time we grew a basketball goal from a seed (read the book The Incredible Growing Basketball Goal if you don’t believe me!). I recall the first ride I ever took on horseback with my dad and how much I love to ride as a result. Oftentimes, when I cast a lure into the water and begin reeling it in, I think of how my dad taught me to fish.

    When I look in the mirror, I see reflections of my dad in my physical body. When I feel melancholy, I recall the times when my dad seemed melancholy…yet kept plugging along, never letting his feelings sway him from doing and being what was right.

    Dad taught me to work hard and not to expect something for nothing. He taught me to drive the hay truck at around age 8 - bolting pieces of wood to the pedals so my feet could reach them. He taught me to drive a tractor, to rake hay and plow the ground. Taught me how to sharpen blades and change a flat tire. I never went without a job each summer from the time I was 8 years old until I went away to college because my dad taught me to work for what I wanted.

    Dad did not say the words ‘I love you’ to me until after I was married, but when I asked him why, he said, “My dad never told me, so I didn’t know how to tell you.” One of the greatest legacies my dad left me was in being willing to make things right. From the day I asked that question until the day he passed away, he spoke those words to me more than enough to make up for all the times he hadn’t before. In fact, the last coherent thing he spoke to me was the words, “I love you.” Precious to me.

    When I learned that his dad had never said those words to him, it dawned on me that in spite of not hearing those words as a child, my dad still expressed love to me. In fact, is not the greatest expression of love the laying down of life for another? My father did that in countless ways. Providing for my mom and my brothers and me. Being at every sporting event I was ever a part of. Coaching my little league team. Making sure we were involved in church. Praying over every meal. I can still recite the meat of his prayers to this day:

    “Dear heavenly Father, we ask Thee to bless the food we are about to partake…and ask Thy forgiveness where we’ve failed Thee…ask these in Jesus’s name. Amen.”

    From the early 1990s until shortly before he went home to be with Jesus, Dad worked for me in my ministry. He and my Mom would haul products to every concert and ministry time, driving from coast to coast on more than one occasion. One of the things I miss most is hearing him answer the phone. “Shepherd’s Heart Music! This is Robert! Can I hep ya?” Whenever I had car trouble, I called my dad. On more than one occasion he came to the rescue when I or one of his grandchildren were in trouble. Seems he was always there. Seems he would always be there…until he wasn’t.
    During the last couple of years of his life, my dad did something very special for me. Whenever we would come to Sunday lunch at my folks’s home - which is almost every Sunday - my dad would ask me how things were going then take my hand and squeeze it. The first time he did this my mind was flooded with healing from the days when he never knew how to say the words. Again, one of the greatest things I learned - inherited - from my dad was that love is more than mere words. Those hand squeezes said it all in those moments. My dad was not perfect…but he was there. The more I reflect on his life, the more of him I see in mine…and in a way, he is still right here with me in little treasures he left along the way. My Dad was a good father.    
    Just what is a father? In its most simple definition, a father is the male parent of a child, but in a spiritual sense, a father is one who prepares his child for life. As I look back, I see that all the negatives are difficult to recall while all the wisdom and good things have risen to the surface. Even now I hear him saying, “You can’t have a champagne taste on a beer budget” meaning don’t live beyond your means (said the man who never smoked or cussed or even let a drop of alcohol touch his lips!). Simple wisdom in a lasting legacy.

    The legacy of my dad extends further back into history the more I reflect on how my father got to where he was. This causes me to think about his father, Samuel Washington Jernigan, who served in the cavalry in WWI (my dad left me the bits from my grandfather’s  horse with the letters “US” stamped on either side) and who rode a horse all the way from Mississippi to Oklahoma in the 1930s where he raised my dad and his two daughters. Legacy can be passed down in oral history, proving the power of life and death is in the words we speak.

    The story is told in our family about how much my grandfather loved me. Even though he died when I was one year old, my grandmother Jernigan told me many times of how he would take me with him around to the oil leases he oversaw in the county. These were the days before car seats and laws concerning such matters. With me sitting on the truck seat beside him, whenever he would see a neighbor or an acquaintance, he would pull the truck over and take me out and proudly show me off to whoever would listen! What a legacy this leaves in my heart to this day…and I do not recall the memory yet I see it clearly in my mind.

    And my Mom’s dad - grandpa Herman - taught me so much about a lot of things. He taught me how to be an entrepreneur. He offered me a nickel for every terrapin or box tortoise I could find so that he could go to flea markets and re-sell them for a quarter apiece. Grandpa Herman was a pastor…I can still smell the old wooden floors and furnishings of the little country church he pastored in Liberty, Oklahoma…the church that he left to go pastor another church near Tulsa only to have the Liberty Baptist Church family move all their things from their new home back to the parsonage in Liberty because they loved them so much and did to want them to leave!

    You’ve probably heard it said that any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. When I think of my father’s legacy to me, I think my dad was pretty special. Reality is that my legacy is long and storied and enduring and reassuring and peace-bringing…and rich beyond measure. One thing that leaves a great feeling of legacy from my dad to me is the memory of seeing him pick up my son, Israel, for the first time…and love on him! My selfish initial thoughts were “Where were you my whole life?” and then to repent and see that my dad was indeed loving on me by loving on my son. In that moment, my heavenly Father began to do a deep work in my mind and in my heart of how He was able to restore to me the things I felt had been robbed from me as a child.
    This brings me to think about my own sons and what I want my legacy to be to them. For my daughters I want the same, but since this is about the legacy of being a dad, I wanted to focus on my boys for this prose…but will be doing the same for my girls in the very near future. My hope is that my children would be granted the power to forgive my shortcomings and to embrace the good and right things I did…that they would never forget how wanted and how loved they were by me…that who they are is more than they can possibly see right now…that their potential is as far-reaching as they can dream…and that my hope is that they would be better dads than I was…from generation to generation.

    Following are excerpts from blessings I spoke over my sons and sons-in-law. Out of respect for them - to protect their privacy - I have removed their names but still wanted to communicate how simple it is to bless your children…even if you have messed up royally in the past. As long as you and your child are still breathing, there is hope…

    To my first-born son. When I think of you I cannot help but remember how much you desired to please me when you were growing up…and how much I wanted you to know how pleased I was with you just because you existed. You are one of the kindest men I know. You’re one of the smartest men I can think of. I trust you with my life and with the legacy of the name Jernigan. You are a massively wonderful dad to your girls and a massively wonderful husband to your wife. I cry when I listen to your silly songs because I know how precious they are to your little ones and that they don’t even have a clue as to how blessed they are to have you. I am so proud of you…

    My second-born son, when I think of you I cannot help but think about the awesome and incredible gift you are to our family - to the world. You are one of the most creative men I know. Your loyalty and patience are a beacon of hope to any you come in contact with - whether you see it or not! When I look back on the past two years of your life and how much you have had to endure and how much you have overcome to where you are now, I cannot help but think about how awesome and wonderful God is! You are blessed beyond what you realize concerning the deep loving heart God has given you. I love you just because you exist. Everything else about you is icing on the cake for me. I am so proud to call you ‘son’.

    To my third-born son…when I think of you I miss you incredibly…incredibly. I love your musical giftings and your sense of humor. As with your brother, I have watched you endure pain and sorrow and suffering with great endurance and strength beyond what I think I could have handled at your age…and I have praised God for His faithfulness to bring you back to where you are right now. I miss hanging out with you and going to the movies with you. I miss the annoying way you would sit on my lap and rub my cheek - no matter who was around! While I may appear embarrassed (which I’m sure is your evil plan), I actually love those moments of silly love. I love everything about you. I love you simply because you exist…and I am proud to call you my son.

    To my fourth-born son…I look at you and see a bold man of God, willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve your family…from wife to us. A real man walks with a repentant heart and you are a real man, son. You are just fun to be around…fun to be with. You go out of your way to make me feel smart even when we both know I know nothing when it comes to the digital age of music and recording. Your willingness to be patient with me during such moments is life to me and peace to my soul. Your talents are leap years ahead of where I was when I was you age and your maturity makes me feel so proud to be your dad. I am proud to call you ‘son’.

    Not only have I been blessed with the most amazing sons, but I have been blessed with equally amazing sons-in-law. Though not born of my flesh, you have each been born like sons in my heart…and you are a part of my legacy as I hope you count me a part of yours. I feel like the richest man on earth because of my nine children and their amazing mother…so add you men into the mix…and my grandchildren…I am beyond billionaire status in heritage!

    Son-in-law one, you are the hardest-working man I know. Your reputation precedes you. I love it when people ask me if I know you…often referring to what a great job you have done for them. I pop a few buttons during such moments, my chest becomes so puffed up with dad-ly pride. Thank you for laying down your life for your wife and children…and for the way I have watched you weather the storms of your life. You are a great man and I am proud to call you ‘son’.

    Son-in-law two, when I think about all that God has done to get you to where you are in this life, I stand back in amazement. Your early life was anything but easy, yet by the love and grace of God, He has brought you out of a great deal of darkness and pain and granted you a wonderful family of your own. I am proud of you for your overcomer’s attitude…and even enjoy your dad jokes. Thank you for laying down your life for your wife and children. You are a strong, good man and I am proud to call you ‘son.’

    Son-in-law three, your attention to being a great husband and great father is amazing to me. Not only do you work hard to provide for your family, but you lead them to a kingdom understanding of who God has called them to be. I cannot ask for more. You are a champion to your girls…a defender of your wife and daughters…a godly man I respect and admire. Thank you for laying down your life for your family. You are an awesome man and I am proud to call you ‘son’.

    Son-in-law four, your heart for God is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of you. The fact that you lead worship makes it easy to love you and understand you because we are similar in that respect…as well as alike in the Achilles tendon saga. Yes, I may be a bit biased when it comes to my sons-in-law, but it’s true! Your diligence to seek after God does my heart good. Thank you for laying down you life for your wife. You are an amazing man and I am proud to call you ‘son’.

    Jernigan men and sons-in-law, I worked hard at being a dad…and plan to work as hard at being a granddad. My goal? To leave such a legacy for the kingdom of God and the generations to follow that Jesus would be easily seen and remembered in my life. You are each - whether you like it or not - part of my legacy…and my dream is that you would each dare to leave such a legacy for those who follow you. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all your needs - and the needs of those you are responsible for - will be met. And how do we seek first the kingdom? By seeking first the King. The kingdom of God? He rules it all - even when the world thinks it rules! God causes ALL things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. My greatest joy? Knowing you love and seek Jesus and knowing you love and lay down your life for your own families just as Jesus did for you.

    When I think of you, I see a great legacy that was granted to me in spite of me…
Thank you for being my sons. I love you…
Dad…Papa J…Deege…Mr. J or whatever you want to call me!