“Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. Then he taught me, and he said to me, ‘Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.’” (Proverbs 4:1-4)
My father, Thomas Lee Chitwood, was born in 1946 to a disabled coal mining father and a factory-working mother. He grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee and, by American standards, was poor. Upon graduating high school, he immediately began work climbing poles and installing residential phone lines for South Central Bell. His 45 year career was temporarily interrupted when he received his draft card in 1965. He married while he was in the army and after his military service returned to South Central Bell and worked as an electronic technician.
In 1972 his marriage failed and he gained custody of my brothers and me, then ages four, two, and one. His parents did what they could to help us and he always did what he could to help them. To this day, he and his siblings care for my 94-year-old grandmother in her home, my grandfather having died in 1992.
Several years after his divorce, my father remarried and, in time, had his only daughter. Having been raised in difficult circumstances and raising his first three children in difficult circumstances has never preoccupied my father. He is one of those hard to find men who, apart from his faith, seems to find his greatest joy in his family. Of all the roles he has in life, those who know him understand the roles of son and father define him. And in those roles, he will, every time, do what he thinks best for his family no matter what it costs him.
I have learned many lessons from my father, lessons about faith, family, work, farming, fishing, and countless other subjects. Most lessons I have learned from observation since his humility and reserved personality do not produce an abundance of prepared lectures or pontifications. Whether watching my father’s instruction or, on those rare occasions, hearing it, experience has taught me to “pay attention and gain understanding” (Proverbs 4:1). The lessons I have learned have helped me live and live well (Proverbs 4:4).
My father’s commitment to Christ as a boy and his recommitment to Christ when I was a boy have had a greater impact upon our family than anything else I can imagine. I am eternally grateful to have been raised by a Christian father.
In fact, of all my Heavenly Father’s countless blessings, my earthly father is among the greatest.