As a child, I was afraid of my dad. Why? Two reasons. He had a temper, and he drank. Not a good combination. I can still picture his face; his color changing from his normal white, ruddy complexion to bright red. Veins would bulge on his forehead as he screamed at his intended target, which could be anyone from my mom, brother, sister, to an opponent on the race track.
He never hit me, nor did he have to. I learned to avoid the flame of the dragon by not acting out. As the youngest, I witnessed my five-year-older brother and six-year-older sister get spanked with a belt enough times that I knew not to imitate their behaviors. I took a lot of mental notes every time they crossed a line.
Not only did I learn to tow the line by watching my siblings, my dad knew a better way of getting to me. It only took a few words coupled with a disappointed tone to make me feel horrible for any wrong doing, even when I was innocent. I would want to melt into the floor when his fire-filled words started turning my direction.
At the age of ten, I attended church with our neighbor, Elaine. I often prayed for my dad. I wanted God to change him. Soften him. Looking back on it, I find it funny that I prayed so intently for my dad, but not really for my mom. Neither of them were following Christ. However, from a child’s point of view, my dad must have seemed more in need of God’s saving power: rougher around the edges. In fact, Elaine, used to jokingly tell him he was the devil incarnate.
God had been speaking to Dad through one of his former pit crew members, Dennis, who had decided to follow Christ. However, Dad was having none of that. He was stubborn and wasn’t willing to change his ways for anything. Until . . .
Shortly after the fire that destroyed our family home, mom threatened to leave him if he didn’t stop drinking. She was going to take us kids with her. He didn’t want to change his ways, but God showed him something that he wanted to give up even less. He finally reached that place where we come to the end of ourselves and find God. He gave it all up. The alcohol. The stock cars. Everything he had been running to in an attempt to satisfy that longing that only Christ can fill. He surrendered his life to God and has never turned back or regretted it.
We started attending church together. I watched God change my dad from someone who scared me to someone I admired. Over time, God took my fire-breathing dragon and changed him into a big, hug-able teddy bear. I nicknamed him, George.
Why did I name him George? Well, remember that old cartoon? The Warner Brothers one with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck? The Abominable Snowman holds Daffy Duck in his gargantuan hands. Daffy appears dwarfed in comparison to this big beast. As Abominable strokes Daffy’s head with his finger, he says,
“I will hug him, and kiss him, and call him George.”
The name just stuck.
I often wonder how differently my life would have been had my dad continued to run from God. Where would I have ended up? I am so thankful that God listens to the prayers of children. Specifically, to me when I was a child praying my daddy.
As I grew into adulthood, I discovered that there were many people who had been praying for him. Oh, my goodness, what a beautiful thing it is when people come together to pray. There is power. Transforming power. The kind that changes a man from someone you would run from into someone you want to know. Someone kinder. Softer. Into George – my big hug-able teddy bear!