My Dad and the Gas Stove

by Bob Hartley

Hopelessness to Hope

As a teenager I did not have much hope in myself, nor the world. People held little promise for me. I believed in God to a degree, but when life disappointed me.  It was a  challenge for me to see a hopeful view of anything, especially a God who I perceived as distant and uninterested.My life had spun out of control due to my reactions to circumstances, that I could not control. My mother was sick for years and it affected our home. Anger built slowly in me. I resorted to doing anything that I could, to mask the pain. I was raised to believe in God, but he did not seem to care about our situation at home or me, so rarely did I see anything hopeful having to do with God.

One dark day, I exploded at my ill mother, with a rage that shocked even me. Furious with her for the effect that her devastating illness, had on our family. I put my hand into a wall. Instantly I knew I had crossed the line and that I had to leave home permanently. My father, ever the gentle and wise leader of our family asked me to come into the kitchen. He stood by the stove and turning a gas burner on, he said, “Bobby, put your hand over this flame and tell me what you feel.” The fire was of course burning hot heat. I replied, “I feel pain.” Dad asked me to put my hand back over the flame and leave it a little longer, and then describe what I felt. “More pain,” I replied.  He looked deeply into my eyes and said, “That is what your mother feels, Bobby, only she cannot escape her pain.”

Angry, disappointed, and even understanding to a degree, I left that day and began a confused existence that lasted several years. I managed my life with the ‘do it harder,’ motto, fighting every step of the way. I did whatever it took, even including selling drugs. Ashamed to go home while living such a life, I stayed away and my downward spiral continued.

There came a day when my free fall stopped. I was sitting in a college classroom and was surprised to see that my father was the professor. Ignoring the other students, he simply said to me in a gentle and direct way, “Bobby, come home for Thanksgiving. Your mother and I would like to have you with us.”

It had been three years since I had left that day, raging about the unfairness of what our family had endured through my mother’s illness. An irresistible urge pulled me to our family home on Thanksgiving Day.

I found myself seated across the table from my father. While others conversed, my father’s eyes were on me. He spoke words to me, that I have never forgotten through all my life. My dad said:  “Son, we have missed you.” He talked to me with such respect, speaking of his appreciation for me. I could hardly bear it, considering my seemingly hopeless condition.  Then he spoke those hope-filled words that I have always remembered. “Bobby, you’ll be quite a man some day.”

I told him; “Dad, you don’t know what I’ve become.”

Nothing I said made a difference. Clearly and simply he let me know he was not changing his mind. He made sure I knew he believed in me, in my destiny and purpose, and it was because of something called hope.

The Force of Hope

I left that day with a tangible gift from my father that changed me forever. You can not see hope but it is real. He had looked at me, a bruised young man, and spoke with confident expectation about who I would be. He was not guessing; he was certain. To a drug dealer who is obviously struggling, the way he treated me made not sense. I trusted my father though so when he spoke with that quiet strength, something shifted in me.  Deep within my heart, a seed of hope was planted that Thanksgiving Day.I began examining the myth I had accepted somewhere along the line that God did not care. The God I knew was distant, severe, and certainly disappointed in me. But my father’s words opened up my heart.  I began considering that I possibly could have a good future, something better than being a drug dealer. Could it be that, just like my father, God was actually hopeful when he looked at me? This was a defining moment in my life. The truth that my father in heaven valued me began to settle in and everything changed.

Truth is powerful and I now know to never underestimate the force of hope. My father spoke those simple words that I would be “quite a man” with absolute clarity and it changed my world. He never let go of that hope and over time I learned the same thing. I had tasted a miracle of hope!