I once wanted to do things that made me feel good,
now I wish I would have done things that my daughters would have approved.
God blessed me with an awesome wife and three perfect daughters. We homeschool our children because my wife insisted. Thanks to that decision, my daughters have instincts about what's right and wrong that I didn't have when I was their age—or now, for that matter. I can't count the number of times they walked in on me in the living room while I was watching a prime time sitcom and told me that the show wasn't appropriate. Bad words. Inappropriate scenes. Excessive violence. They instinctually know what's right and what's wrong, and don't hesitate to tell me when I'm letting bad things into my head.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Phil. 4:8 (ESV).
Looking back on my childhood, I see very different priorities.
The boys I hung out with as a child did stupid, dangerous things. One started smoking marijuana in junior high. One introduced me to “mens magazines.” One tried to talk me into going to the park to start a fight with some other kids.
A few of the kids I grew up with were decent fellows. They introduced me to science fiction. I started reading novels in sixth grade thanks to them. Looking back it seems like I always had a novel in my hands. They introduced me to role playing games, which helped to develop my creativity and intellectual curiosity. They encouraged me to try out band so I started playing the trumpet and enjoyed it. Later I gravitated to another intellectual pursuit that these good kids were involved in, speech and debate. Thanks to that decision I discovered something that directed my steps for the rest of my life. Had I not picked up a whole slew of other bad habits, I might have gotten my adult life off the launch pad much sooner, but that's for another chapter.
Then came the fraternity
There's a large part of my young adult life that I'd rather not tell my daughters about, at least the more seedy parts. After a year in college I joined a fraternity. Before this fateful decision, I had lived a relatively pure and innocent life. I hadn't started drinking yet—wasn't 21 and respected the law too much—at least not in excess. Sure, I did drink a beer or two every now and then with my friends from high school, but very rarely and certainly not every weekend. The fraternity changed everything.
First, the drinking started. I drank lots of beer every weekend, and most days of the week. It started slowly. After all, I wasn't 21 so had to rely on brothers to buy my beer. But within a few weeks of pledging, I was drinking heavily every weekend. I didn't think I was ever too drunk to drive back then, and on a scale from 1-10, I was probably around 2 when I did drive. Still, as a current DUI defense attorney, I am certain I met the legal definition of impaired driving.
Most concerning about this aspect of my college slide is my unwillingness to acknowledge the very real risk I faced of becoming an alcoholic. It's in the blood and my mom constantly reminded my of this fact. My biological father died in his front yard after going on a bender and I recall many nights leading up to the end of my parents' marriage when he came home late very drunk. My maternal grandfather was also an alcoholic. Both these men were full of potential. Very smart and, before the booze destroyed them, very successful in their chosen professions. Alcohol destroyed the men first, then their vocations, then their lives.
Second, I often tell myself that I hated college so much that if I hadn't joined the fraternity I would have dropped out. That's a lie. The fact is I had a A-B average before joining, and graduated with a C average. The parties, road trips, hangovers, skipped classes, etc. killed my grades as well as my early dreams of becoming a lawyer. Thankfully, I grew up and my brain wasn't too fried when I took the LSAT several years later, so scored in the 80th percentile. But I often wonder how things would have turned out had I realized my academic potential back then and gone straight to law school after college. While I still insist that the lifestyle I chose back then was a mistake that I do not want my own daughters to follow, God used those mistakes to mold me into who I am today.
The thing I most regret are the lost friendships. We make choices and take forks in the road many times in our lives. With those choices we move from one relationship to another. It's a part of being human and growing up. Sometimes our interests take us in different directions than the people we hang out with. This is especially true when we find Christ after living a rough and tumble life. “Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'” 1 Cor. 15:33 (ESV). Sometimes it's a good thing to move on.
This sin't what I'm talking about. Remember those friends I had in high school, the ones who inspired me to read, to join band, to get involved in speech and debate, to play healthy, mind-growing games? These are the people I sacrificed when I chose the fraternity. I chose to leave them behind. This was not a Christian thing to do. One friend in particular should have been an inspiration to me. He had a girlfriend. She got pregnant. They got married and she had the baby. They are still married today, decades later. They honored the gift of life God gave them as well as repented of what led them to that position. They honored God by honoring the relationship that is marriage. I should have embraced that friendship more and not run away from it. We should pursue friendships with men of character, the kind of men who stand up for their families and take responsibility for their decisions.
He's not the only friendship I abandoned. There were others. I walked away from good people and embraced a lifestyle that I wasn't ready for.
It wasn't the fraternity, it was me
I do not judge the fraternity itself or my fraternity brothers harshly. The fact is there were many good men in it. A few were men of faith who maintained their purity and innocence even in that hedonistic atmosphere. I even told them in my later years that I wished they would have come out of the closet, so to speak, and witnessed to me. But that wouldn't have helped me back them. I would have done what a few others in the fraternity did. I would have made fun of them. It's what immature, selfish people do. The reason I see those days as dark is because they revealed something in me that was not pretty. They brought out my selfishness and insecurities.
Adults should join fraternities, not children.
My wife and I raised our daughters differently. They have been bathed in the Word. They have been taught that everyone should seek God's purpose in her life and hold out for the something more that God has planned for her. As a result, my 14 year old daughter is much more mature than I was in college. Her morals won't be compromised by college life. Indeed, unlike me, she wouldn't even think about joining a Greek sorority. She'll probably join a Christian fraternity or sorority and be a better person as a result. I have no doubt that my two younger daughters will turn out the same.
Water under the bridge
I cannot relive my life. No one can. What's done is done. I am thankful that God used my poor decision making to form me into a better person, someone better equipped to serve the Kingdom. Indeed, the fraternity provided me my defining moment, the moment that I suddenly woke up and realized what I was becoming. The moment that, to this day, compels me to help others avoid the same mistakes I made in my youth.
It happened in my final year in college. The fraternity's final rush party was going on and I had consumed lots of alcohol, but I had plans that evening. Ironically, the plans were with the good man I discussed above. I'd set him up with a blind date a few weeks before and he was returning the favor. So, after spending time at the party, I drove twenty miles to home. I cannot remember the drive, but I'm sure I was all over the road. I do remember getting home and calling him to tell him I was on my way. I remember my slurred words as I tried to speak clearly. What I didn't know was that my mother was listening in on our conversation. She kept me from leaving and probably saved my life. The highway from Bedford to Irving, Texas, was as busy back then as it is today and there's no way I would have made it there without getting into an accident and possibly killing myself or someone else. I stopped drinking to get drunk then, and several years later I stopped drinking altogether. Today my primary mission field is DUI defense. I share the gospel with people who deal with alcoholism every day, and my experience in college gave me a terrific testimony to share.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (ESV). Still, as a father my perspective has changed. I survived my youthful indiscretion but I do not want my daughters to make the same mistakes I made. Temporary pleasure isn't worth the risk, especially for girls. Thus, in hindsight, I once wanted to do things that made me feel good, now I wish I would have done things that my daughters would have approved.
Copyright © 2014 by Kevin Mark Smith