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Faith: Things my father taught me

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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column of those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Augusta Press.) 

It has been many years since I saw my father’s face. His dark, dark auburn hair which looked black until the sun was on it; his deep brown eyes which always had a serious look about them as he navigated life with a wife and six children; his broad smile with a slight gap between his front teeth and his good looks which were amazingly similar to Tennessee Ernie Ford. 

He died on a Sunday morning in January of 1970. Not feeling good he stayed home that day while the rest of the family went to church. It hardly seems possible that he has been gone for fifty-two years. That’s over half a century! Impossible!

My dad worked hard in a day when that’s what people primarily did. He went to work at the furniture store of which he was the manager and later part owner and later came home for lunch. Back to work after eating and home after dark. Same thing the next day and every day. He never made a lot of money, but he made sure his family was properly provided for. He was what one would call a good man. He was a family man; hard worker; very honest; dedicated Christian; Sunday School teacher and deacon. Frank Harrell, Jr. was a person people liked and trusted. I still miss him and regulate my life, even today, by things he taught me by his own example.

When I came along as a young person, the nuclear family was the most important part of society. In fact, that is what held things all together but in the last sixty to seventy years there has been an attack on the family unit to the point that our society is faltering and flailing around like a “chicken with his head cut off.” Those of us who remember how the family used to be find it hard to realize what has happened to that building block of society, but we can readily see the awful effect of what has happened to the family unit in our lifetimes. This article does not afford me the space or time to elucidate the situation the family finds itself in during these days, but the situation is devastating to an orderly society.

My father taught me many valuable things that have carried me faithfully through life. He prepared me in some very meaningful ways to live among people with integrity and purpose. I will pass along just a few of these in this article.

My father taught me to respect him and other adults. He made sure that I and my siblings understood that he was the daddy, and we were the children. We were to order our lives according to the order which he set. He taught me to say “Sir” and “Yes, Sir”, and “Yes Mam” and “No Mam”. There was no “yeah” and “huh” or “what” when addressing him and our mother or any other adult. Additionally, we did not call our parents or adults by their first names. Children who do that do not have the proper respect for their parents or other adults. Even as an adult, I never addressed my father as “Frank”. I always called him “Dad” or “Daddy.” Respect was due the man who provided a home, food, clothing and things I needed, and he got that respect. He did without so that his children could have things.

Frank Harrell also taught me to work hard and be honest; to have a good work ethic. This is something which is sorely missing today in society as a whole. God bless those who are still teaching their children this good rule of life. I learned to finish a job once I started it and to be proud of my work. Nothing was handed to me on a silver platter therefore I took care of what my hard work produced. The mentality of the welfare state has invaded the home of today. Kids of today are, to a great degree, spoiled rotten brats who have everything handed to them and who show little or no appreciation for what they have. Parents find it easier to cottle and pander to their children than to take the time to properly mentor them with the valuable traits of life. A generation has been raised which says, “you owe me the things which past generations worked years to attain.”

My dad made sure that I knew how to discipline myself…self-discipline.  Why is our society so out of control today?  It’s because people who were not taught self-discipline are now raising their children the same way.  It’s a downward spiral.  It is important to be on time, neat and clean, and in control of what you say.  You should, according to my dad, look a man in the eye when you talk to him and always do what you say will do or make other agreed upon arrangements.  And always…always…tell the truth.  Never lie.  If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you told the last person.

My father taught me a good business ethic. I learned this by watching how he did things plus what he told me verbally. He said, “Son, always live within your means. Pay your bills on time or make an agreed upon arrangement with the person to whom you owe money.” 

I remember one thing that has stuck with me over the years. He said, “You can’t live above your income. You can’t have more going out than is coming in.” Massive personal debt which is so prevalent today was something that he warned me against. “You can’t spend money you don’t have” was good advice that has paid off for me and my family over the years. He also taught me that “you can’t borrow yourself out of debt.” This is a lesson that most people never learn and often regret it when the “hammer falls.” Business transactions that my father usually made were sealed on a handshake. If one asked a farmer in South Georgia in those days to sign a contract, it would insult him to the point he might walk out of the store without buying anything. His word was his bond, and his handshake was worth everything he was worth. 

My father always dealt with people based on his good word and a hearty South Georgia handshake. The people who knew Frank Harrell, Jr. also knew his word was his bond and it would not be broken. I am thankful that I learned that from him, and I had still rather do business on my word and a handshake but that’s not the way our society works today much to our detriment. A good business ethic is necessary, and I am deeply thankful that I learned that from my father.

But one of the most important things I learned from my dad was self-respect.

If a person does not respect themselves, then no one else will respect them. How a person feels about themselves will determine how they treat others. Other people will hold you only in as high a regard as you hold yourself. He taught me to make sure that genuine self-respect did not come across as being conceited or self-centered. No one likes someone like that, and my father taught me to always have an attitude of humbleness and respect for others. That will go a long way toward making life as it should be. He told me something one time which I have employed in my life many times. He said, “Bill, don’t ever criticize a man for doing a particular thing because you never know what is in his mind and his reasons for doing it.” He didn’t talk about people and if someone said something bad about a person in his midst, he would refrain from saying a word about that person. 

My dad was a kind, humble, caring person who did much more for people than would ever be made public. A man came to me not long after my father had passed away. He was a man who didn’t have much but worked hard and had experienced some hard luck. He said that my dad had bought Christmas for the man’s family and brought to him. Now, Christmas was a big expense around our house because of our six children but, somehow, he managed to provide our Christmas and another one for the family of the man who related the story to me.

My father taught me and his other children to love God, trust Jesus and serve Him in the local church. Of course, my mother was a dedicated Christian and taught those things also. But as head of the home, it was his responsibility to lead the way spiritually. We were always in church along with him and my mother and all of us were introduced to Jesus and got saved at the proper time. As stated earlier he was a Sunday School teacher and a deacon in our church. The pastor of the church always leaned on Frank Harrell for his support and talents of which he had many. He played the piano like Liberace but never had music lessons. He could draw like Norman Rockwell but never had art lessons. Unbelievable talent was granted him by the Lord’s Spirit. 

That was Frank Harrell, Jr.  He has been sorely missed for these 52 years, but I am thankful to God for making him my dad and I am grateful for the things my father taught me.

I am looking forward to seeing him again in God’s timing.

Reverend William (Bill) Harrell has been in ministry 49 years. He served as the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA for over 31 of those years. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also check out his blog at www.williamfharrell.com 

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