I do not blame my father for the career path I chose; I am the one who tossed out everything having to do with gardening and landscaping. I understand that my father and I were not at all alike. Our differences seemed to completely confound him and, as a result, to irritate and anger him. Nevertheless, the story of the rosebushes shows just what power a word of ­blessing—­or a lack of ­one—­has in directing and shaping a life.

And what do I mean when I talk about the word blessing? For most people, a blessing is something you give before a meal or when someone sneezes. Many people may say things like, “You are such a blessing” or “That was a blessing” when referring to a positive event in their lives. However, such uses don’t convey the transforming power inherent in the way I am using the word. When speaking the language of blessing, a person communicates, affirms, and empowers ­God-­given intrinsic ­attributes—­such as personality, gifting, talents, character traits, and ­intelligences—­that he or she sees in another person. 1.1

Sadly, I hadn’t learned the language of blessing by the time I was a dad myself. I often took on a critical, ­glass­-­is-­half-empty approach with my own sons. When I asked them to do something in the yard or around the house, I inspected their efforts and pointed out what did not meet my ­expectations—­expectations I now realize I’d either communicated poorly or failed to communicate at all.

When my wife would overhear me scolding one of the boys, she’d sometimes point out that she had not heard me clearly explain those standards to my sons. I would then say something like, “I should not have to point out that kind of detail. Any fool would know that is the way it needs to be done.”

My focus was always on what needed improvement. Like most people, I found it very difficult to give to others what I had not received from my own dad.

It does not have to be like that. In the introduction, I explained how New Life, a ministry in which I helped people through relational challenges, taught me the importance of unconditional love and acceptance. It was also the first time I learned how intrinsically the blessing is tied to whether you and I feel affirmed.

My experiences at New Life also enabled me to see the reality of my life as a child and as a young adult. I had always tried to portray myself as the product of an idealistic, Midwestern, ­middle-­class experience. The reality was something very different. My father tried to be a good man, but he struggled with alcoholism and inappropriate anger. At times he felt such rage that he became physically abusive and demanded perfection. He also struggled with a bipolar disorder. I have calculated that, by the time I left home at age twenty, I had received over ten thousand statements of criticism from him and not a single word of affirmation. I believe my father had the distorted belief that if you praise a child, he will quit trying to improve. Criticism, not praise, he thought, would make a person stronger.

In his later years, when my dad was suffering from asbestosis, I would sit by his chair or bedside. By this point, I was involved in New Life Ministries and had found that I no longer needed or sought his approval. Dad seemed to realize this, which made it much easier for him to relax around me. In addition to telling him about my work and family, I occasionally shared with him what I was learning through my journey with New Life. I think I was hoping that he might find some comfort in these truths.