Posts in category Vision Casting

True leadership to aspire to



Jeff Kemp with 49ers Coach Bill Walsh

Jeff Kemp with 49ers Coach Bill Walsh

On Saturday nights before NFL games, most teams watch a bit of film of their opponent to sharpen their minds for the next day. My 49ers coach, Bill Walsh, added a twist: he showed a highlight clip of our team the game before that week, so long as we won or competed admirably. On a big run by the running back, Bill would narrate the play, giving special emphasis to a key block.

“Gentlemen, look at our left guard Guy McIntyre. Watch his footwork and his speed pulling across the formation to lay out, with his head on the correct side of that linebacker that he blocks. This is perfection. It’s a great effort by a great San Francisco 49er. I look forward to seeing you men play at this level tomorrow.”

Man! How do you think Guy felt after that? How did we as buddies feel? How much would you want to be the guy to make the plays that made the highlight film the next week?

Bill had a way of lifting our view of ourselves from average to elite, from athlete to intellectual, from winner to champion. This is the kind of true leadership I aspire to, and so can you.

To husbands, dads, managers, and Little League coaches: make a mental highlight reel; describe the character, the effort, the kindness, or the sacrifice of someone on your team. You can help someone face their blitz, reach their heart, and fill their tank.

©2015. Adapted from Facing Your Blitz weekly video encouragement, and from the book, Facing the Blitz, by Jeff Kemp.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “True leadership to aspire to” by Jeff Kemp on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistGet these devotional encouragements weekly in video format from Jeff Kemp’s Facing Your Blitz Youtube page.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistFor more encouragement on turning trials into triumphs, get Jeff’s book, Facing the Blitz, from the FamilyLife online store.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistEvery day this week, text, email or speak to your your wife, child or friend about a thing they’ve done well.

Super Bowl MVP: Dad



Just about everyone gets a little excited about the Super Bowl. Even the people who aren’t football fans probably look forward to the halftime show or the creative and entertaining commercials. They’re more interested in the side show than the final score or the MVP.

If this year’s commercials are any indication, there’s already a winner for this year’s Super Bowl MVP: Dad.

This year there are three commercials that will probably touch everybody, man, woman, or child. That’s because they’re about dads, and the fact is that either you are a dad, have a dad, or have a dad-hole you’re looking to fill. The commercials for Toyota, Nissan and Dove pluck all those heart strings.

Dove Men + Care: “Real Strength

This commercial’s been out on the web for a while (it went viral last Father’s Day with 12 million views), but the exposure it will get during the Super Bowl will likely make it a commercial that everybody remembers.

It’s simply a succession of two dozen clips of kids and young adults in everyday life. A swimming pool, a high chair, a wedding. No one says more than one word, but that one word is powerful. Dada. Daddy. Dad.

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The commercial’s text asks a simple question and offers a simple but profound answer:

What makes a man stronger?

Showing that he cares.

Dove’s reminder is that a dad’s strength is his involvement in the lives of his children, from their earliest years to the time they start their own families.

The commercial concludes by inviting dads to share how caring makes them stronger at #RealStrength

Nissan: “With Dad”

Like Dove, Nissan has already been around the internet with its “With Dad” campaign, but they’re keeping their Super Bowl commercial under wraps until the big game. Over the past several months, Nissan has repeated the mantra, “Everything’s better with dad.” It’s a campaign by Nissan’s chief marketing officer Fred Diaz, acknowledging something that every parent in America knows: it’s hard to strike a good balance between work and family, but it’s important to do it.

You probably remember Diaz’s contribution to the 2013 Super Bowl, with his tribute to farmers, with audio narration from Paul Harvey. If that’s any indication of the quality and impact we can expect, the commercial’s sure to be one of the viewer favorites this year. Until then, all we have to go on is this 10-second teaser.

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As for the football connection, you can check out a series of features Nissan did on the NFL Matthews family by searching #withdad on YouTube.

Toyota Camry: “To Be a Dad”

This commercial focuses on the reality of fatherhood, featuring real life stories from dads and their kids. Some are NFL players. Others are just regular Joes. The commercial begins with a simple question:

Is being a good dad something you learn, or a choice you make?

More than a feel-good piece about, say, ginormous horses and fluffy puppies, “To Be a Dad” focuses on how “one bold choice leads to another.” Whether they had a good father or not, these men share about how they are trying to be that good dad, and you can see how they are passing that legacy down to their own children.

At the end of the piece, viewers are invited to become participants by tweeting about their own father. The piece ends with this message:

Honor your dad.
Tweet us photos of him using #OneBoldChoice
to join our big game celebration.

Check out the extended length commercial here.

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As you can see, the commercial is inspiring in many ways.

  • We see men we respect on the field being men we can respect in real life.
  • We see men who started life with a void who are now determined not to let their children know that feeling.
  • We see children talk about how their dads inspire them.
  • We see dads who are humbled and gratified at the impact they’re having on their kids.

We also see some of the damage that’s in the process of being healed. Damage caused to grown men when they were little boys by fathers who weren’t present or who were emotionally detached. These men feel like they don’t have a template to follow and are left to make it up as they go, essentially trying to become everything they didn’t have as they were growing up.

Thankfully, we all have a Heavenly Father whose deep desire is to know us and have us experience all His best for our lives. And thankfully, He’s given us an instruction book that teaches us how to father, not out of our woundedness, but out of His wisdom and love.

My hope is that these commercials will raise the conversation around fatherhood. Hopefully it will spark stronger connection between dads and their kids, and will bring together those men who grew up without dads and those who were far more blessed, all around the conversation about what it means To Be a Dad.

Unbroken, plus 10 other real-man movies



The movie Unbroken, which opened on Christmas Day 2014, tells the story of a real-life World War II hero. In this post, we share a bit of his story and point to 10 other major motion pictures about real-life men who stepped up in the face of overwhelming pressure.

This may sound strange coming from a professional writer, but I’m not a big reader. My schedule’s usually so busy and fragmented that it takes me forever to finish a book. That is, if I ever start one. A good year is when I actually finish five books.

Needless to say, I wasn’t overly excited or hopeful when my manager here at FamilyLife recommended a book for me to read. But he hit me at a good time, when distractions were at a minimum. I was hoping he was right about it being a gripping story, because if it didn’t grab me quickly, my schedule would.

He was right about Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. And so are the millions of readers who have kept it on the New York Times bestseller list for four years. And I’m pretty sure that millions more will be picking up a copy after seeing the film adaptation of Unbroken when it premiers in theaters on Christmas Day.

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Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, who may be the most incredible man you’ve never really heard of. The story follows his life, starting as a problem child running from the police, eventually channeling his talent for running into a positive direction and making the 1936 Olympics. When the nation was plunged into World War II, he put his Olympic career aside to become a highly-regarded bombardier in the Army Air Corps, only to become a crash survivor, floating at sea for a record 47 days before being picked up by the Japanese. He spent the better part of the next three years in brutal prisoner-of-war camps, written off as dead by the nation that revered him as an athlete.

After his rescue at the end of the war, he re-entered civilian life as a bitter and psychologically tortured man bent on revenge, which nearly destroyed his family. That all changed in 1949 when he heard Billy Graham at a Los Angeles evangelistic crusade speak of forgiveness and redemption through Christ. For the next 65 years until his death this summer at age 97, his personal life of forgiveness inspired and challenged others.

Two people in particular were impressed by his story. One was Laura Hillebrand, who wrote Unbroken. The other was Angelina Jolie, who directed the motion picture — one that directors toyed with for 50 years but none had the courage to tackle the complicated story line.

We haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, but have paid close attention to the trailers, interviews, and news of the film — enough to be confident that it’s a movie well worth watching (and a book well worth reading). We have heard that the faith elements aren’t as strong as Christians would like, but thankfully the Billy Graham Association interviewed Louis before his death and had him tell the rest of the story … of how a bitter, broken man became unbroken through the life-changing power of Christ. The 30-minute video, Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace, is available on DVD for a gift of any amount, and will be available to watch for free online beginning Christmas Day.

The film Unbroken is rated PG-13 for violence and some language, just to be forewarned. This may be a great outing for a father and older sons. Zamperini shows how talent combined with discipline and focus can defeat some of the most formidable foes, whether external or internal. Seeing other real-life men stepping up to face struggles in their lives, encourages boys and men both, and opens up opportunities for conversations about what it means to be a man.

To go along with the movie Unbroken, we came up with a list of 10 other movies for men. Over the past few months, we asked a number of people to recommend movies where men stepped up in the midst of difficulties and, in doing so, inspired others. Here are some of the films that consistently showed up on these men’s lists. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. We don’t even claim them to be the best biographical movies for men.  And some of them have objectionable elements that may make them inappropriate for your sons, or even for you. So we’ve included their MPAA ratings. For more information on the content in these films, follow the links to Pluggedin.com, Focus on the Family’s film review site, which we find to be dependably thorough and balanced.

So here’s our list of 10 real-man movies — films about real-life men who stepped up in adversity, and the films (in alphabetical order) that tell their stories.

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The cost paid by the signers of the Declaration of Independence



Our last post detailed the convictions and courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This post shows the price many of them paid for the courage of their convictions.

signers of the declaration independence hallTheir courage and sacrifice

Strong convictions often bring about strong consequences, especially when they oppose someone addicted to power. The British military had already been acting as though it was above the law; now it would be all out war. Citizens who didn’t support the king would see suffering. They could expect to be imprisoned and have their property confiscated.

And those who led the effort to step up and break away from King George would especially face serious consequences: not just the vengeance of the British throne, but the high personal price of their unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom. Consider the fate of a number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

George Walton of Georgia was wounded and captured in 1778 leading his state’s militia in the defense of his hometown of Savannah.

30-year old Thomas Heyward, Jr. of South Carolina signed the declaration at the great displeasure of his father, who was sympathetic to the king and told Thomas he would likely hang for the act. The two men resolved their differences before the elder Heyward died the next year. Two years later, Thomas, along with fellow South Carolina signers Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton, were taken prisoner in the siege of Charleston and held nearly a year to the war’s end.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey had his home overrun by the British invasion. He managed to get his family to safety, but he was captured, specifically because he signed the Declaration of Independence. He remained imprisoned for years, the last half year of which he nearly starved and froze to death. In battered health, he was released and returned to his home to find that all his furniture, crops and livestock were taken or destroyed, and his library—one of the colony’s best—was burned.

John Witherspoon of New Jersey, an active clergyman and president of the College of New Jersey (later to become Princeton), shut down and evacuated the school when British troops invaded the area. He spent most of the rest of his life rebuilding the college. Witherspoon also lost his son James in the battle of Germantown.

Thomas McKean of Delaware led an army the day after signing the Declaration to help George Washington in the defense of New York City and narrowly escaped with his life from cannon fire. In the next year he was on the run from the British, having to move his family five times.

John Hart of New Jersey was also pursued by the British. His property was invaded and looted. Two of his young children fled to relatives’ homes nearby, and Hart himself took refuge where he could in the surrounding woods and in nearby caves. He returned to his home a few months later, and a few years later he offered the fields surrounding his property as an encampment of Washington and 12,000 troops.

Lewis Morris of New York lost almost all of his property and wealth in the war, much of it within just two months of signing the Declaration of Independence. He served as a brigadier general during the war and spent nearly all his post-war days working to rebuild his property and farmlands. His frail wife was imprisoned by the British and never recovered her health.

Philip Livingston of New York was forced from residence to residence by the British armies. His first two homes became a British barracks and hospital, and the other two homes were burned to the ground. As well as the properties he lost to the enemy, he sold several others to support the colonial war effort, and died suddenly in 1778 before he could rebuild.

Lyman Hall, on the advice of General Washington, took his wife and son and fled his Georgia home for Connecticut, where he remained for two years until the war’s end. He returned to his property in Georgia, but he had lost most of what he had.

Carter Braxton of Virginia invested a large amount of his wealth in the revolutionary effort, as well as the shipping and privateering industry, which furnished the war effort with supplies. The debt that he incurred forced him to leave his estate and move to a smaller home.

Robert Morris of Pennsylvania surpassed all when it came to putting up his personal fortunes to support the war effort. Before any country or major bank was willing to extend credit to the fledgling United States, Morris was there. The $10,000 that he loaned the new government supplied Washington’s desperate troops, who went on to defeat the British at Trenton. Like Braxton, he also supported the shipping industry that delivered provisions to the soldiers and citizens. Morris never recovered his pre-war wealth, but his investment helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Americans and helped establish the United States as a nation.

signers of the declaration documentThe legacy of their actions

These were just a fourth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. While others may not have sacrificed as much as these, each risked his personal safety, integrity, and possessions to stand for freedom from tyranny and oppose the unlawful British rule.

Despite their admirable actions, these men were not without their character flaws. Several were slaveowners. Massachusetts’ Elbridge Gerry has his name forever linked to the unethical process of gerrymandering. Benjamin Rush, the father of American medicine, was a gossip and was even caught forging an anonymous letter seeking to undermine George Washington’s leadership of the continental army. Benjamin Franklin was a playboy and given to deception.

But at a crucial moment in history, these men were willing to step up and sacrifice their personal comforts for the good of their countrymen. Like John Adams, each had doubts about the wisdom of breaking free from England and the prospects of their success. But they were committed to the ideals of equality and responsible government. It’s doubtful any of them could have imagined that the nation they birthed would still celebrate 238 years later, with fireworks and feasts.

But like Adams, they would almost certainly approve.

Next Steps

1.  Read Dennis Rainey’s article, “5 Ways Men Need to Step Up”

2. In Rainey’s book on manhood, he combines stories about courage with a strong challenge for men to step in their families.  Order Stepping Up.

3. FamilyLife’s Stepping Up website features a blog and helpful information about our exciting Stepping Up video series.

The courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence



When you think of the Fourth of July, what words come to mind?

signers of the declaration flagHoliday? Grilling? Fireworks?

But 238 years ago, it was three different words.

Conviction. Courage. Sacrifice.

On July 4, 1776, 56 men met in Philadelphia to pass a resolution declaring their independence from England. It was anything but a picnic. What they did that day at Independence Hall would cost them greatly in the years to come. But it paved the way for a radical new way of thinking about government that would change the course of human history.

It’s not that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were against celebration. In fact, two days earlier, when 12 of the colonies had ratified the document, one of its architects penned a letter to his wife, predicting that the Second of July would be celebrated every year thereafter.

The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.

Four days later, the Liberty Bell rang out to summon the people to the first public reading of the document. As the words were read, there were great shouts of affirmation, and great celebration following. A year later, Congress would authorize the use of fireworks as an appropriate means of celebrating the birth of a new nation.

But amidst his feelings of enthusiasm, John Adams’ words above also reflected a somber tone that was common to all who signed the Declaration of Independence. In doing so, they knew they were inviting a declaration of war by England. They knew that, as traitors, they were essentially forfeiting all their possessions to the crown. Essentially, in signing the document, they were putting bounties on their own heads.

signers of the declaration document

The Declaration of Independence (click to read)

Their convictions

But in spite of the obvious cost, they considered the impact their actions would have for the people of America. They understood from Scripture that government is a sacred trust given by God to protect the inherent rights of people created in His image. Their new document stood toe-to-toe against the prevailing governmental idea of the day — the divine right of kings, which held that, when the one on the throne spoke, it was the voice of God speaking.

The Declaration of Independence contended that King George was abusing his God-given power as leader of England and the American colonies. It was their responsibility as decent men, they stated in their document, to challenge him on this for the sake of his subjects. Benjamin Franklin himself recommended a national motto in defense of their actions.

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

They listed King George’s offenses against the people and against his office— 27 of them. The signers of the Declaration maintained that their continued efforts to bring their grievances before the king and his appointed  leaders had been met with indifference, if not oppression. They had no other recourse, they stated in the document, but to declare their independence from the tyrant who represented neither them nor the God who entrusted him with his position of leadership. They rejected his authority because King George had rejected His authority.

The concluding post details the personal costs paid by 13 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Freedom isn’t cheap, and it certainly wasn’t for these men.

Five generations of fathering



This post first appeared in the NoahGetsANailgun blog.

Five generations of fatheringThis is a picture of five generations of Nagels that I keep in my office. Moving left to right is my great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, father and on the far right is the one guy not in a coat and tie — me. The verse on the framed picture is from Proverbs 17:6b.

“The glory of a son is his father.”

I’ve been blessed with a strong Christian heritage and am at a point where I’m understanding how valuable this is and have become more and more grateful for it.

Deuteronomy 7:9 says

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

The generations before me have kept His commandments and have passed them on to the next generation. Now it’s my turn.

Maybe you have a similar spiritual lineage. Or it could be you’re a first generation Christian. Either way, as a dad, you now have the responsibility to teach your kids about God. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (5-9)

Five generations of examples

Instead of giving you a list of church answers of things to do with your kids like have family devotions, pray before bed, love your wife, go to church, etc. I want to give you three things: one thing that impacted me as a young boy watching my dad and two things that go hand in hand that I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. One of my earliest childhood memories is coming into the living room and seeing my dad either reading his Bible or on his knees praying. He didn’t start his day reading the paper or figuring out what was on his work to do list, he started it by connecting with God. There’s something powerful and contagious about seeing your dad in God’s Word. I want to pass this along to my kids too.
  2. I’ve got an impressive list of things I’ve done wrong as a dad. My kids know I’m not perfect, but they also know I’ll ask forgiveness when I need to. They were driving me absolutely crazy earlier today while I was in the midst of unsuccessfully trying to fix a minor issue on an appliance and in my frustration I said some things to one of my kids that were not called for. Once the dust settled I took the child off to the side, told them what I did was wrong, didn’t make excuses, and asked them for forgiveness. Your kids know it when you mess up and they know it when you blame others, make excuses, or just flat our refuse to admit you were wrong and say you were sorry. I know people like that and honestly I want nothing to do with them. You don’t want your kids feeling that way about you. Admit when you made a mistake. Your kids will forgive you and they’ll love you even more for doing it.
  3. On the other side of that coin, I always want to be quick to forgive my kids when they ask me for forgiveness. Their view of God as Father is going to be most impacted by me, their earthly father. I don’t ever want them to think their heavenly Father won’t forgive them and that means I need to immediately accept their apology and not bring up their past infractions time and again. I have a child who continues to do the same things over and over and when they ask for forgiveness my flesh wants to respond in anger by saying something like, “I know you aren’t really sorry because you keep doing this. Until I actually see you make an effort to stop acting this way I’m not interested in hearing your apology.” Obviously this type of response will have serious affects on how they view God’s forgiveness. In that moment I have to say a quick prayer telling God how I’m feeling and ask Him to enable me to respond in a way that reflects His nature and not my flesh.

I realize this is just scratching the surface of things we can do as dads to help pass on a godly legacy to our kids. What are some things you learned from your dad, or have done as a dad yourself, to pass on the faith to your kids?

Father/son camping: Building relationships



For about five years now, I’ve been gathering with two friends from my college days for a father/son camping trip. Though we attended the same college, pursued the same degree, even shared 90 percent of our classes together, our friendship was cemented when we began gathering for a Bible study during our masters program. From there we began to grow closer and challenge one another to pursue Christ, which led to life-long friendships. Since college ended we’ve continued to keep in touch. What began as the occasional couples’ gathering (before kids) transformed into men-only camping trips, and as the boys grew older, became a father/son camping trip.

Enjoying a father/son hike

Enjoying a father/son hike

And though we no longer share occupations or state residency, we value the time together because of the ability to go deep quickly. The years of abuse and heckling we’ve given one another act as a base of shared experiences that, even though we only occasionally talk during the year, enable us to catch up quickly and press into each other’s life from the first moments together.

This is the first year we’ve really tried to be intentional with our sons in terms of casting a vision for manhood. We’ve found that three nights is essential to really connect with one another and our kids. We spent the first night (Friday) getting set up, and then started with a talk on manhood in general Saturday morning, breaking down I Corinthians 16:13-14.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

That verse served as the basis for our other talks on courage and what it means to be a man. We also talked Sunday morning about what it means to “stand firm in the faith.” Throughout the fire-side chats, the boys were surprisingly attentive (ranging in age from 12 down to 4).

Natural Bridge, Powell/Wolfe Counties, Kentucky

Natural Bridge in eastern Kentucky

We spent the mornings and evenings around the campsite, and each afternoon on some kind of adventure activity. The first day we hiked up to Natural Bridge, which is an arch in a geological area in eastern Kentucky spanning over 100 feet. It is an amazing site and is surrounded by many other natural wonders.

But as important as the time is with our sons, the most valuable part of the weekend by far in my mind is the time around the campfire with just the men. That’s where we talk about the issues and struggles we’re facing and start to go deeper. And it really takes a few nights to get there, which is another reason for having three nights around the campfire.

No doubt it is REALLY hard to find other men you trust, have deep connections with, and can share very personal things with on a regular basis. If you don’t have any guys like this in your life, or if there are some guys you’d like to go deeper with, having a father/son camping trip is a great way to open the door to this type of friendship.

David English, the guru of all things manhood and life-stage growth, says that men should find a couple of guys in their life stage and commit to gathering a couple of times a year to “process life together.” He’s written a number of studies that walk through the stages of a man’s life in great detail. Very helpful.  I’d recommend grabbing some of his content and working through it with a group of guys, or maybe gathering a larger group of men at your church and talking through one of his books.

Check them out here: http://www.gravitationstudios.com/phases/books.html

After the trip we have already begun to plan ahead to next year — just talking about big picture items like where we might want to go and some of the things we might want to do. We also decided to read through a book together and discuss it some, over the coming year. Great friendships really only grow stronger through time together, and camping with your boys is a great excuse to carve out the time even during a really busy stage of life. Get out there — and let us and others know of any great camping spots in the comments.

Remembering and honoring a D-Day dad



“In all of the far-flung operations of our Armed Forces, the toughest job has been performed by the average, easy-going, hard-fighting young American who carries the weight of battle on his own young shoulders. It is to him that we and all future generations must pay grateful tribute.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt

June was Dad’s month. If James Lepine were still alive this month, we would be celebrating his 95th birthday. He was 25 years old in June of 1944 when he boarded the transport for the Normandy invasion. And it was in June of 1988, just a few weeks before what would have been his 69th birthday, that a different battle ended his life — a battle with malignant melanoma. Three days after he died — just 14 hours following his memorial service — we welcomed the first son into our family. We named him Jimmy.

BobMedals2aI am reminded of my father daily. A picture of him hangs on the wall in my office, and underneath it are these dates: June 16, 1941-January 25, 1946. Just to the right are various medals and ribbons, including a Purple Heart for his war injuries. I wish I knew more about the stories behind the awards. But when my father died 16 years ago this month, most of the stories died with him.

Dad arrived at Normandy roughly 24 hours after the battle had been engaged. Did he wade onto a blood-soaked beach, populated by the freshly dead bodies of his fellow soldiers, the way it appears in Saving Private Ryan? I’ve asked my mom, and she says Dad didn’t talk much about the battlefield. He was fighting to protect his country, and even after the war was finished, he may have continued to protect his wife by not telling her all that he had seen.

So, I’ve had to learn about Dad’s service in World War II from what Mom remembers, from the collection of letters he sent home to his parents which have been passed down to me, and from what history records about F Company of the 359th Regiment, 90th Division. Here’s what I know:

Second Lieutenant James R. Lepine received his commission and his orders in June 1941, the same day he graduated from what was then Michigan State College. He completed his basic training in Fort Benning, GA, and was sent across the country to Camp Roberts, Calif., for an additional 17 weeks of infantry training.

Driving to town on a sunny California Sunday afternoon, he would always remember approaching the roadblock where he was told to turn around and report back to camp immediately. It was December 7, 1941 — the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was a soldier whose nation had just gone to war.

He had just become First Lieutenant Lepine. His next duty station was Camp Barkeley in Abilene, TX, where he joined the “Tough ‘Ombres,” the men of the 90th Infantry Division. He continued his correspondence with his college sweetheart, Eileen Cross from Flint, MI, and in September, she rode the train from Michigan to Texas to become Eileen Lepine … in Abilene.

Dad stayed in the States for training until early 1944, when it became clear that the men of the 359th Infantry were going to be sent overseas. At Fort Dix, NJ, they received their final physical checkups, new clothing and supplies, and waited for deployment. And on March 22, they headed across the Atlantic for Operation Overlord — the code name for the Normandy invasion.

Letters home

My father was a faithful letter writer, and my grandmother kept a scrapbook of her son’s letters from Europe, along with the “V-mail” — the microfilmed version of full-sized letters that the government created in an effort to speed the delivery time and allow for more room in overseas shipping.

The scrapbook is my link to the events my father lived through 60 years ago. The first letter is dated March 20, 1944 — a couple of days before he shipped out. “I’m so tired I can hardly stay awake,” he wrote. “That, coupled with the fact that there isn’t much that we’re allowed to say will make this a short letter. … This may be the last chance I’ll have to write for a while, but don’t worry.”

It was almost three weeks later before the next letter from “Somewhere in England” which was as specific as he was allowed to be:

“I’m fine and, while I can’t tell you much, I can say that I think I will like England on the whole and that the food is good so far. If you think that you are suffering from rationing I can tell you that you can’t imagine what rationing is until you’ve seen British rationing restrictions. The civilian population really realizes what it means to be at war.”

Dad’s next letter was sent by V-Mail: “I have just finished writing Criss [my mom’s nickname] and can’t find anything that they’ll allow us to tell you people. She’ll be disappointed and I know you are too. But the shroud of military secrecy overhangs everything.”

His letters throughout the spring of 1944 talked mostly about food and weather, along with regular assurances that he was fine. There wasn’t much he could say about the ongoing training to prepare for D-Day. There were occasional insights into army life before the invasion:

“Cigarettes are plentiful but Cokes could be sold for about $5 apiece. There’ll always be two classes: the “haves” and the “have nots.” I’m just in the wrong class” (April 15).

“Just a time tonight to let you know I am well and safe. We’re all getting pretty accustomed now to British scenery, British ways, and British money. You have no conception of the old-fashioned facilities that the British are in possession of. Plumbing and electricity and all are about 20 years behind our standards” (April 25).

“Don’t worry about my birthday because there isn’t anything I need or can carry with me. I changed the war bond allotment from a $25 bond a month to a $100 bond a month and they will be sent to Criss. As long as she’s at home she may as well keep them. … I feel fine and the food is still good. Have a ¼ inch haircut that I know you’d get a big laugh out of. But it’s very practical” (May 30).

Dad’s last letter home before the invasion was sent May 31. My family heard nothing for more than three weeks — only the news reports back in the States about the allied invasion. They could only hope and pray that if in fact he had been part of the attack on Normandy, he had survived.

D-Day

The 90th Division arrived on the beaches of Normandy in waves, beginning on the morning of June 6 and continuing for three days. In any conversation I ever had with my dad about D-Day, he would sum up the events of the day this way: “The ship I was on hit a mine as we landed. I made it ashore, passed out, and when I woke up, I was in a hospital bed back in England.”

The army sent the news of Dad’s injury in a telegram to my grandparents on June 21, 1944:

Regret to inform you Capt. James R. Lepine was on 7 June slightly injured in action in the European area. You will be advised as reports of condition are received.

There’s no way of knowing whether that telegram arrived before or after the letter my dad wrote home five days after being injured:

“In case the war dept. should send you or Criss some alarming telegram, I’m writing to let you know I’m OK. I’m back in England after a short tour of the coast of France. We went in early in the invasion. Our ship hit a mine and promptly sunk, leaving us to hitch hike the rest of the way. After riding in a couple of destroyers and landing craft we managed to land. My knee and back got kinda strained when the mine hit and I guess I must have passed out after walking 4 or 5 miles. I was probably a little punchy too. Next thing I can remember I was on a ship headed back here. Hope to get out and play war again if they’ll let me. My knee is still a little weak but I think it’ll be OK. Lot of people shooting guns over there and someone’s bound to get hurt. … Hope you’re all fine. Will write again” (June 12).

It was almost two weeks before Dad wrote home again. From his hospital bed in England, he reported he was being reassigned. In another, he wrote, “I feel good and, as all soldiers do, I’m living for the day when the Statue of Liberty again comes into view and we can start life over.”

He sensed victory in Europe was at hand. “I hope you aren’t becoming too optimistic about this war at home because I’m afraid everyone else is. Germany is whipped, I’m convinced, but intends to continue fighting a while longer. Sure will be glad when Hitler says quit, as will everyone else.”

In mid-August, the 90th Division fought the battle of Falaise Gap, where they destroyed the German 7th Army. By the time the smoke had cleared, more than 10,000 German soldiers had surrendered and been taken prisoner. Three days after the battle was over, Dad wrote home, saying, “If a man stays alive and in one piece for a couple of more months he should be able to make it ok.”

Dad was able to stay alive and in one piece, although a few weeks later he made a return trip to an Army hospital, this time with a concussion and with hearing loss in his left ear as a result of a nearby artillery blast. He wrote to tell his parents not to worry, but in a subsequent letter that he sent to his father at his office, Dad cracked the door open just a bit on the realities of war. “You have no conception of what hell the boys on the front lines go through,” he wrote. “I don’t think any of us will want to talk much about it afterwards, but rather will want to forget. There were some good days, but they didn’t make up for the bad ones.” On another occasion, he wrote, “The war for the most part is pretty awful and when these boys finally get back home they’re due every consideration that can be given them.”

From September 1944 until March 1945, Dad remained in England. And then the letters in the scrapbook come to an end. I have no idea how much longer Dad was overseas, or when he arrived back in the States. I do have the papers processing the end of his time in active duty, dated January 26, 1946 —almost nine months after Hitler had committed suicide and Germany surrendered.

The sacrifices of our fathers

Dad never initiated much conversation about the war, and I didn’t know enough to ask or care until he was gone. I grew up knowing that my Dad had been at Normandy, but without knowing much about the significance of that battle.

He died before Saving Private Ryan, before Band of Brothers, before Tom Brokaw proclaimed his The Greatest Generation, before we stopped as a nation and thought about the sacrifices of our fathers and honored them for their service. I’m sure if Dad were alive today, I would have lots of questions for him about the landing at Utah Beach, his injuries, whether he was scared, whether he ever had to watch a friend and fellow soldier die, or whether he ever watched an enemy soldier die from a wound he had inflicted. And I’m sure he would have done what many of his fellow soldiers have done — shrugged his shoulders and said, “We just did what we were supposed to do. It was just something we did.” Simple as that.

Thanks, Dad. I don’t know that I ever said it while you were alive, but I should have. Thanks to you and to all who stormed Omaha and Utah beaches 70 years ago. Thanks to those who fought the Battle of the Bulge. To those who waded ashore at Iwo Jima. To the prisoners of war who died in the Bataan Death March. To the men on board the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. To our fathers and grandfathers.

Many of us realize now that we should have expressed our gratitude years ago. We didn’t know. We didn’t understand. I’m not sure we do now, but maybe we’re beginning to, and we’re grateful.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

 

Standing up to domestic violence: Remembering Yeardley Love



“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill’s admonishment to humanity is frequently quoted. Yet, how often do we heed the warning?  How often do we seek to step up and make the change?

YeardleyLove

The late Virginia lacrosse athlete Yeardley Love

Four years ago this month, a beautiful and talented 22 year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player, Yeardley Love, was murdered just before her college graduation. Her 22-year-old ex-boyfriend was eventually convicted of the crime. His previous death threats revealed warped and untrained emotions. Now he will be spending much of his life in prison.

How will we treat this? Will it continue to fade away as headline news  — a sensational trial to follow? Or will this be a wake up call? Will we learn from this tragedy or face the risk of repeating it?

After Yeardley’s funeral, former NFL standout and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann wrote an open letter calling us to get to the root of this alarmingly common tragedy: America’s epidemic of bullying, dating and sexual abuse, and gender violence.

In the letter, his cross-hairs are aimed pretty near the bulls-eye as he signals out one of the main causes  — the failure of society and parents to model and teach authentic manhood to boys and young men. False definitions of manhood lead to poor relationship building, and an inability to empathize with others.

Counterfeit Manhood

In Jeffrey Marx’s book, Season of Life, Joe fingers three counterfeit definitions of manhood: physical prowess, financial prowess, and sexual prowess. This is a fool’s scoreboard  — tracking sports, money, and sex as measures of masculinity. Joe teaches his football players and the kids he works with that being a man, first and foremost, means the ability to enter into and maintain meaningful relationships. A man lives for a cause greater than himself and his needs. Authentic manhood means accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and enacting justice on behalf of others.

Emotional Deficiency: Conquering an Empathy Deficit Disorder

Joe emphasizes that when we teach our boys to “stop crying,” “stop those emotions,” and “don’t be a sissy,” we incorrectly define what it means to “be a man!” As he notes, this leaves many men unable to relate to the feelings of others  — including women. He warns that when this happens, women become objects “… used to either validate masculine insecurity or satisfy physical needs. When the validation ends or is infused with anger, control, or alcohol, gender violence is often the result.

Too many boys have wounds from their fathers, the break in their family, or shame that they are damaged goods and don’t measure up. Boys and men must be taught that emotions are valid, but they need to learn how to control those emotions. They need respect, encouragement, and training in empathy, a missing characteristic in a culture focused on self. Allowing empathy to grow helps prevent anger or jealousy from being acted out in the violence depicted in most entertainment.

Authentic Manhood, Strengthening Relationships … How We Can Take a Stand

In addition to damaged emotions and false definitions of manhood, I submit that the breakdown of marriage and the treatment of sex as an a-la-carte item in America’s cafeteria of libertine choices are linked to the crisis of relationship violence. These are currents that must be curbed if we want hope for our next generation. Our nation’s freedom to disagree about what is right and wrong is fundamental, but to shirk from defining right and wrong is neither love nor compassion. It is sabotage of precious young lives.

So what can you do?

  • Love your spouse: Resume dating him or her. Ask them what their main needs are from you and work at meeting them.
  • Spend time playing and praying with your children.
  • Prioritize the relationship skills of communication, apology, and forgiveness.
  • Train your teens to build friendships, not exclusive, clingy, sexually-involved romances.  Stop treating sex and violence as entertainment and sport.
  • Ask questions and have dialogue with your sons and daughters.
  • Affirm their worth … show respect.
  • Get candid with your sons about treating women as if they were their little sister; it’s not a game.
  • Pass on a vision of love, relational maturity, and commitment that is anchored in humanity, identity, empathy and transparency.

Oh yes, we parents are imperfect. That does not disqualify us from stepping up to parent this generation. Anything less is neither courageous nor loving.

Don’t let the tragic death of Yeardley Love fade away as another headline sensation.  Imagine if she was your daughter? What if the ex-boyfriend was your son?  Honor her memory. Prevent his path to shame. If you know someone suffering from domestic violence or you yourself are caught in that battle, read this article on Domestic Violence Awareness for ways to get support.  Also, read Joe Ehrmann’s article “One Team-One Heart-One Love = One Movement” to help end this tragedy.

Thank you for choosing to be my dad



Bill Eyster has been executive vice-president of FamilyLife since 2006. That Thanksgiving, he wrote this tribute to his stepfather, Dr. Alvin L. Morris, but felt it would be better to deliver it the following June to honor him on his 80th birthday.

Al Morris passed away October 10, 2013. Since then, Bill has felt led to move his family back to Kentucky so he can care for his mother, Beverly.

choosing to be my dad

Beverly and Al Morris

I know you don’t want a big deal made of your birthday and that speaks to the kind of man that you are, but this is as much for the rest of the family as it is for you. I want them to know …what I have come to know, understand, and appreciate about you.

I think it’s important that the grandchildren recognize the legacy that their grandfather passes on. They need to know the impact you have made on my life. So, Al, please humor me and allow me to tell you how much you mean to me.

Al, you are intentional about everything and when you married my mother you knew what you were stepping into.

At age 13, I had been filling the self-imposed role of “man of the house” for close to four years. When you came on the scene and began to date my mother you were able to see first hand how broken I was.

You saw my anger, my rebelliousness, and my bad choices.  You witnessed crushed tables, all night outings, and other such challenges. But, because of your love for my mother, you chose to marry her and intentionally accepted the responsibility of raising an independent 6-foot-tall, 13 year old boy that was full of anger.

The challenges with me didn’t stop there. I was running hard and a living example of a rebellious “red headed stepchild.” You experienced late nights, bad grades, disrespect, ill gotten speakers, a trashed brand-new RV, “borrowed” cars, unauthorized parties, and a continually bad attitude. It’s not lost to me that you had already raised three great children and yet you accepted the responsibility for raising me.

In the 32 years I have had the privilege of being your son …

  • I have seen what it means to be a man of integrity,
  • I have seen what it means for a man to love his wife,
  • I have seen the importance of family,
  • I have seen hard work and dedication,
  • I have seen a man who loves the Lord,
  • I have felt acceptance … I have felt loved.

As I have gotten older and closer to the age at which you made this choice, I marvel. Through it all you never treated me or made me feel like a stepchild. You set high standards and challenged me to meet them. You selflessly and intentionally accepted me, loved me, and cared for me. You were always there.

As I have grown in my faith, I realize how God put you in my life to play a major part in making me the man, the husband, and the father that I am today. I thank God each day for you and want you to know I am deeply grateful for your love, for your acceptance, and for choosing to be my dad.

— I love you.

Your Son — Bill

_____

If you haven’t written a tribute to your parents, we’d encourage you to do it while you still can. If you need help, check out our free resource The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents, or get Dennis Rainey’s bookThe Forgotten Commandment.  

If you’ve given your parents a tribute that you’d like to share with the readers of Stepping Up, we’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s something you’ve written or recorded on audio or video, just Contact Us here.

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