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My wife’s and my eldest son, Dallas Jenkins, grew up to become the creator, director, and co-writer of the international hit TV series “The Chosen.” We should have known he would become a filmmaker when he was six years old after hearing him lecture a “Star Wars” action figure. He said, “You may die in this mission. You don’t want to go to hell, because Satan’s mean and he won’t give you anything. But if you go to heaven, you can ask Jesus for anything you want. And if it’s all right with your mom, he’ll give it to you.”
Dianna especially appreciated the theology of that sermonette.
But that was also the age Dallas was when he told me, “I want a new dad.” This came at the end of our nightly ritual when I put him to bed, prayed with him, had him recite a few Bible verses, and sang a couple of songs with him.
Needless to say, that announcement cut me to the quick, because, frankly, I was a pretty good dad. In fact, despite that I was an author, I never even wrote while our three sons were awake, that’s how much of a priority they were to me.
I established that policy even before our kids were born. When I was in my early twenties, I happened to interview five men about twice my age for disparate magazine stories. At some point in each of the interviews, I asked these men if they had any regrets. To a man, each said he wished he had spent more time with his kids while they were growing up.
Clearly, someone was trying to tell me something. As I discussed those sobering responses with Dianna, we agreed that once kids came along, I would do no writing or office work from the time I got home until the time the kids went to bed.
I practiced that policy religiously, so Dallas’s statement hit hard. But I tried to take it in stride and said, “Really? Who would you like for a dad?” He mentioned the father of his friends down the street.
I knew immediately why he believed this man was someone special. Whenever this guy got home from work, his wife and kids ran out to the driveway to hug and kiss him and walk him into the house. That didn’t happen with me, because I was predictable. I was there at the same time every day, investing all my time and energy into my family and leaving my writing until late at night when they were asleep.
But this neighbor was anything but predictable. He was an alcoholic, had trouble keeping a job, and was a compulsive spender deep in debt. His family rarely had any idea where he was or when he might be home. That’s why there was such a celebration when he did show up—and that was what Dallas often witnessed.
Of course, I couldn’t explain all that to a six-year-old, but that night I did tell Dianna what he had said. It struck us that, as people of faith, we had what this man needed. We had an anchor in the universe who had changed people much worse than he was. So we strategized how we would make an effort to get to know this couple better and earn the right to be heard, so that someday we could gently share that with him.
But the very evening Dallas had said that, and I discussed it with Dianna, and we began making our truly well-intentioned plans, it was already too late. The next morning, the wife ran down to our house and told Dianna she had just found her husband in the car in their garage with the engine running and a suicide note on the seat next to him. She hadn’t seen him pull in the evening before and didn’t even know he was there.
All I could think was, why do we always wait?
Despite that this happened more than 40 years ago, the stunning impact of it has never left me. I decided I would no longer wait. I doubled down on my urgency to share my faith, both orally and on the page.
I’m not going to wait anymore.