The Cycle That Was Broken With My Dad

by Dr. Bruce Hebel

by Dr. Bruce Hebel

On Father’s Day weekend in 2007, we made the 415-mile trek from our home to my parent’s condo in Paducah, Kentucky. Dad had been diagnosed in February that year with pulmonary fibrosis, which is basically the hardening of the lungs. His condition deteriorated rapidly and we knew this would be our last time to celebrate Father’s Day with him. We gathered our family of five and made our way to their home to spend the weekend with him.

On Saturday, Dad and I were able to find time alone to chat. You should know that Dad and I had a great relationship; no father wounds for me. We just wanted to spend some quality time together and share our hearts. He pulled out a notebook with his plans for his funeral and declared, “When I’m gone, you’re in charge. I did my mother’s funeral, so you ought to be able to do mine.” I replied, “Not a lot of wiggle room there, is there Papa?” We both had a good laugh.

After we covered all that was on his mind, it was my turn. On the advice of a wise friend, I set up a video camera and asked Dad to tell me his story. For the next hour, through his oxygen mask, my dad shared his life with me and the camera. The following is what I took away from our time together.

My Grandfather was just a boy when his father and two uncles emigrated from Germany to Texas with their families in the early 1900s. My great-grandmother did not adjust well to the frontier life, so she left her family and returned to Germany. I can only imagine the wounds that decision inflicted on her husband and son (my grandfather).

Personally, I don’t remember my grandfather; he died when I was two. But what I learned about him that day was that his wife and daughters loved him and that he was an honest man who worked diligently to provide for his family. For many years he toiled as a sharecropper, a modern-day form of indentured servitude. As a result, he was a hard man who lived a hard life. What is most significant to me is that he had a very bad relationship with his oldest son, my dad. Largely due to that relationship, my dad began drinking heavily by the age of 13. The only thing I know they ever willingly collaborated on was to lie about my dad’s age so he could join the Air Force at age 16. The Air Force soon discovered the deception and sent my dad home. He continued to drink and was known around town as a brawler.

Things between them never really got better. When my grandfather was dying, Dad rushed from Fort Worth to the hospital in Lubbock, Texas. Arriving at his father’s deathbed, he said, “Dad, it’s me, your son.” Grandfather replied, “I only have one son, and he’s over there!” pointing toward my uncle. The cycle had repeated itself. A wounded son (my grandfather) wounded his son (my dad) in the way he had been wounded. This cycle is what makes Father’s Day painful for so many.

Yet this insidious cycle can be broken and a new legacy discovered. I know, because it happened in my dad’s life.

Dad was eventually drafted into the Army and endured the atrocities of the war in Korea. When he returned to Littlefield, Texas, he married my mother. By this time he was a full blown alcoholic, but God used the gentle and stubborn faith of Mom to break through to my dad’s heart and transform his life.

On the day Dad embraced the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for all of us, he was immediately delivered from his alcohol addiction. He quickly recognized God’s calling to pastoral ministry, and he moved with Mom and my sister Kassie to Fort Worth where he attended Bible college. Eventually God added my sister Debbie and me to the Hebel clan.

God began dealing with Dad’s relational issues, particularly with his father. My Grandpa didn’t change, but my Dad’s heart did. Through forgiveness, God gave Dad a love for his father which came out of God’s love for them both. You see, forgiven people forgive people!

Forgiveness is the key to breaking the cycle.

Dad wasn’t a perfect father. There is only one of those. But one thing I never doubted was that my dad loved me, believed in me, and wanted the best for me. He was my biggest cheerleader. The old handed-down cycle of anger and hostility was broken, and a new legacy of love and grace was established. He modeled for me a whole different way to live which, by God’s grace, I have been able to model to my children.

This new legacy is now passing into its third generation of Hebels because my dad, having experienced the forgiveness of God, forgave his father.

Happy Father’s Day Dad! We love you and miss you. Thanks for leading the way!

 “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31