Relationships

I wanted to tell my dad how much I hated him

Josh McDowell // April 1, 2019, 4:59 pm

Tell-dad-how-much-I-hated-him

I’m going to tell you a story about a 11-year-old boy who woke up one day and just wanted to die.

Have you ever felt lonely? That’s how I felt growing up. I was brought up on a farm in the state of Michigan where my father was the town alcoholic. I can tell you that as a child of an alcoholic, you carry that shame around you every day of your life.

It seemed like I was always rescuing my mother and sister. When my dad wasn’t trying to kill my mother, I was trying to kill him. I’d grow up seeing my mother lying in the gutter, in the manure behind the cows. My dad would beat my mother until she was a bloody pulp, whipping her until she was screaming and crying.

I would jump on his back – and one time I almost bit his ear off – pounding, kicking and screaming “I’ll kill you!” I grew up with the shame that my father could hurt my mother because I wasn’t strong enough to stop him. I had nothing to do with it, but that’s how kids internalise things.

I had nothing to do with it, but I thought it was my fault. My dad hurt my mother because I wasn’t strong enough to stop him. 

WHEN I BECAME AFRAID OF MEN

When I was 6 years old, my parents hired a man by the name of Wayne Bailey as our cook and housekeeper, so that my mother could be freed up to work the fields.

Whenever my mother went away, she always made me stand in front of that man. In her harsh voice she would say: “Now Josh, you obey everything he tells you to do. And young man, if I get wind that you’ve been disobedient, you’re gonna get a thrashing.”

I didn’t want a thrashing from my mother. So what did I do at 6 years old? I did what Wayne Bailey told me.

At 9 years old, I gathered the courage to tell my mother what was happening to me. She was doing the dishes in the kitchen. I stood behind her, and I told her what this man was doing to me.

My mother turned around and got mad at me. She started shaking her finger and said: “Young man, I did not raise you to be a liar”.

She made me go out into the backyard and stand against this huge willow tree. After taking my shirt off, she whipped me for 30 minutes until it hurt so badly that I screamed: “I’m lying, I’m lying, I’m lying!”

That was the darkest day of my life. It was when I lost hope.

There was no one left to defend me. That was when I became a fighter. 

The fight to fight on

I was always in trouble in school. Do you know why? If you were in trouble after school, you had to stay back after school to be punished.

It was far easier to stay at school and be punished than to go home and be raped. That’s when I became afraid of men.

So by the time I got to university, I was screwed up, even though I was a leader on campus. I was the freshman class president, I did this and I did that — I was Mr Everything in college.

You see, I had the capacity to laugh on the outside while crying on the inside. Every time in high school they would make jokes about my dad. They didn’t think it bothered me because I laughed along.

But let me tell you: It hurt. I never let anyone know – even my closest best friends.

THERE’S SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT THEM

The first few days in university, I saw a small group of students who stood out from others because they seemed to have a genuine and authentic love and care for each other. And this group of students and university professors seemed to have the same kind of love for people outside their group.

So I made friends with them. And we started talking. And over time, the conversations eventually got to God.I said: “You have got to be kidding me”.

I sat down with one of the young ladies of the group, and I asked her what was the reason for the difference in her life. She answered me in two words: Jesus Christ. I told her not give me that garbage.

Well, I started putting on a big front.

I went to debate in over 250 universities about the Bible. I wrote a 900-page book trying to refute the claims of Christianity. And by the time I had done that, I was sitting in a museum cafe in England, waiting for my flight back to California, when I leaned back in my seat — and just put my hands up.

And I said aloud, amid all the people in the cafe: “It’s true!” I realised then, that even if I was the only person alive in this world, Christ would still die for me.

CHRIST IN THE CRISES

Even after I came to Christ, I despised my father.

But one day I decided I was gonna drive 23 miles (37km) to Battle Creek, Michigan to meet him. We met in a diner. I looked at my father and wanted to tell him how much I hated him.

I opened my mouth and said: “Dad, I want you to know I love you.” I don’t know who was more surprised.

Then in 6 months to a year and a half, my whole life was transformed. I was in a severe car accident. My lower back and neck almost severed. They strapped me to a board and I could hear the ambulance leave.

My father came into the room. He was pacing along the right side of my bed, for probably no more than 2-3 minutes. 

Then he leaned over my face, stopped and said: “Son, how can you love a father such as I?”

Asking Dad for forgiveness

My dad said: “What brought me to Christ is that my son had every right to hate me, yet he drove 23 miles to tell me he loved me.”

That’s the power of a declaration of love. I told him: “Dad, 6 months ago, I hated you. I despised you. But I came to one conclusion intellectually. God became man, His name is Jesus. And He is passionate about a relationship with you.”

My father turned around and walked out. I thought I blew my first witnessing experience. Some time later, my father came back and he stood in the doorway. And I could see he was crying. He came over and leaned over.

And he told me that if God could do in his life what He had done in mine, he wanted that. Right there and then my father prayed with me.

He prayed what I call a farmer’s prayer: “God if you’re God and Christ is your son, and if you can forgive me and come into my life and do what I’ve seen you do in the life of my son, then I will accept you as my personal saviour.

I saw my dad’s life change in an instant. I tell my grandkids that what they’re enjoying from their father and me is what I learnt from my father in the 14 months before he died.

Those 14 months he was my daddy. That time with him has impacted my life till this day.

Christianity is not a religion. The whole world thinks that religion is working our way to God through religious ritual. That has exactly nothing to do with becoming a follower of Christ. Those things are good, but they’re the result of a relationship – not the cause.

Christianity is God the Father offering us a chance to come to Himself because of what His Son did. Jesus satisfied the holy, just and righteous nature of God. God accepted us because Christ died for all of our sins.


Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell was in Singapore in March 2019 and shared his testimony at several events. The following story is adapted from his speaking engagements at the Like Father, Like Son conference organised by Men’s Ministry Network and the Set Free summit organised by Cru Singapore. 

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