Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Birthday Boy

We didn’t think he’d ever get here. He was due May 23, 1980. He didn’t arrive until June 8 (thankfully, it was still 1980). And his tardy birth came after a day’s and night's worth of worthless labor that finally gave way to the C-Section that brought our Nathan David McCallum out of the womb and into the world. He is our first-born, our only son. We love him. And he turns 30 years old today.

Nathan David McCallum. There’s story behind his name. The front story is this: we named him for Nathan Larry Baker, one of my key mentors in ministry. And we named him for David McCallum, my older brother. I was named for my dad’s oldest brother; I thought I would keep some of that tradition alive. That’s the front story.

The back story is a bit different. If you know your Bible you will recognize that the names Nathan and David belong together. David was Israel’s greatest king. Nathan was a prophet in David’s court who called the king to task for his sin with Bathsheba. And in some ways that story has played out in our son’s life. There’s some David in him for sure. He’s a leader. He likes music. He loves God. He expresses his thoughts very well whether in speaking or writing. And he has some bold sinner in him too. By the same token, he’s got some Nathan in him as well: he desires righteousness, and he loves to speak God’s word into people’s lives. Nathan David McCallum—that’s our son.

And he was a joy to raise. Having grown up for the most part without a father on hand, I didn’t know fathering, but I knew boys. I was pretty sure I’d figure out how to raise a boy. And Nathan was easy. He provided us with lots of laughs. Like the time he escaped from the church nursery one Sunday night on a little scooter and rode it right down the center aisle of the sanctuary while I was preaching. Or the time when he was around eight and was the lead in a church Christmas play. He spoke his lines, was supposed to move down the steps, but caught his foot on a cord, pulling a mic stand down hard on the side of his head. Ever the consummate professional, he just rubbed his head and didn't miss a beat with his lines. He always did have a lot of poise. He was also very good at imitating voices and entertained us at countless mealtimes. He was especially good at doing Steven Urkel from Family Matters. He could do the Urkel dance and everything. He was pretty good at doing the opening of Monday Night Football too. Talented kid and pretty darn funny.

He rarely gave us any trouble either and usually did what he was told. There was one occasion that stands out in my mind about one of those rare moments when he was less than cooperative. When Nathan was about three years old, my wife was out and I was trying to watch a Razorback game while Nathan was supposed to be napping. Very few Razorback games made TV in Kansas City, so I liked to devote full attention to them when they were on. But Nathan wasn't cooperating. He kept calling me for this or that, and I kept telling him to pipe down and take his nap. It became a war of words that wouldn't have escalated if I had just gone in there in taken care of the situation. But I was more interested in my game than I was in my son at that moment. So I let it get out of hand. I got so mad at his interruptions that I decided I'd fix him good … at the next commercial. Since he was being so mouthy, I determined to wash out his mouth with soap—and not just any soap, but dishwashing soap. So I dragged him by his little arm into the kitchen, put a few drops of that slimy, blue liquid on my finger, and smeared it across his teeth and mouth. Then he looked up at me, tears streaming down his sweet, pudgy cheeks, and do you know what he did? He blew a soap bubble. Then I laughed and he laughed and I scooped him up in my arms and gave him a great big hug. We survived moments like that, Nathan and I.

We even survived the infamous California Grapes caper when he was in second grade. The kid had the nerve to steal a couple of California Grape characters (remember those claymation figures back in the mid-80s?) from a classmate at school. We found them in his room. We learned he stole them, and I lowered the boom, trying to put the fear of God and the fear of Dad in him all at once. I made him give them back. Then he had to apologize to the student he stole them from, to his teacher, and to the school principal. I gave him a spanking, a lengthy lecture about the morality of stealing, and I threatened to take him to the local jail so he could experience the last stop on the road of thievery. Then, I grounded him. You’re probably thinking, “That’s a little over the top.” You’re right. It was; I was a maniac. But the good news is that since he turns 30 today, his grounding is finally over. I have a daughter too, but for some reason, right or wrong, I was always harder on my boy.

But we have enjoyed a lot of great times too—lots of pitch and catch with the baseball, basketball under the lights on our back driveway, four downs (a football game for two we made up), lots of watching the Hogs and the Royals and the Chiefs, and plenty of video games when those games were just taking off. We played Nintendo RBI Baseball until Nathan started whipping my backside. That’s when I decided to leave video games to the younger generation. Nathan and I had a lot of fun together while he as he was growing up, and I wouldn’t trade those times for all the money in the world.

Nathan had a pretty good childhood, I think, a happy one all in all. He became a Christian as a youngster and walked with the Lord pretty closely until we moved from our home in Greenwood to our new assignment in Hot Springs. Nathan was 15 at the time and just didn’t make the adjustment all that well. He did very well in school, had lots of friends, and was even voted by his classmates as the “Best All-Around” boy in his class. But he struggled spiritually. That struggle reached its peak during his college years when he fell into some serious sin. Maybe that’s the David in him.

But there’s some Nathan in him too, and I can’t tell you how proud of him his mother and I were when Nathan rebounded from his fall to get back on the path with Jesus. Dayna and I knew he hadn’t been walking with the Lord. And we’d been praying for the Lord to draw him back. Well, the Lord answered our prayers with a sledgehammer. But that’s okay. God is a wise and loving Father who knows just what it takes to do redeeming work in the lives of His children. Nathan fell, and both God and the church caught him in the safety net of grace.

Life has had its challenges for Nathan along the way. Things have rarely been easy for him: a major move during a formative time in his life, major facial reconstruction surgery his junior year in high school, some bad decisions in college, a lost scholarship, having to grow up ahead of schedule, a rocky marriage, and finally divorce. But while life sometimes knocks Nathan down, it does not knock him out. To paraphrase Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, Nathan has this treasure in a jar of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from himself. That's why he doesn’t throw himself a pity party and doesn’t sit around moaning, “Why me?” Nope. He always gets up. He always moves forward. And God continues to work His plan in Nathan’s life.

God is using Nathan’s life these days to influence college students, young adults, and especially his own two children, Noah and Reese, who adore him. He loves them very much. It’s hard for him as a single dad, and I am often amazed that he does as well as he does in that situation. He works full time, he’s active in his church, and he takes care of two little kids half of every week. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

I’ve always believed God has great things in store for Nathan. Some of that greatness is going on now. Some has yet to be revealed. But this I know: Nathan is up for whatever God leads him to do. Maybe it will be in vocational ministry some day. Maybe it will be in volunteer ministry (which he does a lot already). Maybe it will be the raising of two kids who may end up being difference-makers of their own. But this I know: whatever God has in store for him, Nathan will rise to the challenge. By God’s good grace he always has.

And so on his 30th birthday I want to say of him what another Father once said of His Son: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Nathan, it's a joy and a gift to be your dad. Happy Birthday, son! And, God willing, many, many more.


  1. What a great story. Will he change his middle name to Bill?

  2. My heart is smiling. Happy Birthday to your boy!