Christian Fatherhood, Absent Dads, and Discipleship Interview of Tom, PastorUnlikely

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Encouraging Fatherhood Podcast Interview of Tom, PastorUnlikely

Jeffrey of Dad Different Podcast and I got together and talked about fatherhood, absent Dads, and making disciples in this interview. I hope you take the time to listen or read the transcript below as we discuss important issues for anyone who wants to follow Christ more abundantly.  I have also posted this over at the Podcast,  Come Let Us Disciple podcast on Apple, Spotify, and Podbean.

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Transcript:

Jeff
Hey, what is up family and welcome to another episode of the dad different podcast. My name is Jeffrey. And in this podcast we talk faith, family and fatherhood. And really what it means to be men who are raising our families the best we can, that we face struggles and challenges daily. It’s about stepping up and being men who are committed to leading our families well. So thanks for joining me on this journey. And today we are chatting about faith family and fatherhood with Pastor Tom Neary pastor, husband, father and writer behind the pastor unlikely blog. So pastor Tom, thank you for accepting this invitation and offering yourself up to be on the dad different podcast.

Tom
Yeah, it’s my pleasure. It’s a blessing to be here. Awesome

Jeff
and So we’re gonna get right into it. You know, you guys were not privy to the struggles that we had prior but I think it’s gonna be a good one. So stay tuned, get locked in and it for sure will be a good one. So, before we get into anything else, you know, why don’t you let our listeners know a little bit more about you who you are in pastoral unlikely and what that’s all about.

Tom
Yeah, my name again Tom Neary and I’m a pastor in Maryland. I am somewhat of an unlikely pastor because I didn’t come to faith until my 30s I am a lawyer and a husband and a dad and my my goal is really I love walking with Jesus and particularly in light of all of I did what I did before so I’m trying to help other people know the Bible know Jesus and be the best disciple husband, father, brother leader that they can be

Jeff
Yeah, that’s that’s awesome. And so you mentioned pastor unlikely I’m for those that don’t know that is a blog in where can they find that blog?

Tom
It’s just pastorunlikely.com. I also do a podcast called Come Lets US Disciple, it’s kind of similar theme is here just helping others walk better with with Jesus. Yeah.

Jeff
So obviously you mentioned pastor unlikely came about because you’re an unlikely pastor, you didn’t come to the faith until your 30s you mentioned so go ahead and share some of that stories, some of that testimony of what that transition was like in ultimately what brought you here and where you are now as a pastor. husband, father,

Tom
yeah, sure. So I came to I grew up in a fatherless home. My dad is in many ways a wonderful man. But he also was struggling with the results of his father’s alcoholism and his alcoholism.

Tom
So for a very early age, my parents were divorced and I would did not see my dad very often. And when I did use it was not very pleasant. So I grew up basically outside the church. Without any male role models, I had a couple uncles who would be in my life here and there. But otherwise I kind of just figured out tried to figure out how to make my way in life and based my future on what I saw growing up as a latchkey kid watching TV after, after school and using the imaginations of a little boy who was just dying to have a father and dying to have a male role model and to be a strong man.

Tom
So I figured that looked like getting a good job working hard, and having a nice family. And I’d really didn’t think past that. So I went to law school and became a lawyer. I got married and had kids but all at the same time I was, I was dying. I was trapped in the same cycle. My dad, my grandfather and a good number of my relatives had been struggling with alcohol and struggling with just life and really trying to make sense of it though.

Tom
I’d gotten what I wanted, which was a good job. Yeah, the steady career. I was I had a wonderful wife started to have kids and I was just miserable. Every single day was pain and the suspicion that there was more than that, until I got to a point where my career was gone well, but it just was everyday pain every day struggling every day that thinking is this it? Is this all there is. And at the same time, I was struggling with alcohol too. So just drink drinking every day, until my wife thankfully met some believers when she was she was a believer, but she was imperfect unbeliever if you put it that way. She grew up in an in a tradition that doesn’t really value a personal relationship with Christ, and was very strong on rituals and tradition and the outward but didn’t really understand the greatness of Jesus Christ. And how awesome he is personally. So she started having doing Bible studies with some gals at work. And she had been really crushed by the fact that I was obviously not a believer and more apparent as we’re going along in our marriage.

Jeff
How did how did you two meet? How did you and your wife me?

Tom
We went to college together. Okay, so we met when we’ve known each other for 30 years now crazy to think about, yeah. So she started taking off her faith. And it was really obvious that our relationship changed and it had nothing to do with me or anything that I was doing. I was carrying out the same stuff from my childhood and the dysfunctional stuff. I was the same difficult person that I could be at times. And she just started loving me better and started being filled with joy, the obvious results of a growing relationship with Christ and I was just left alone miserable by myself.

Tom
I was left arguing with myself and the more she prayed and the more she trusted and more she grew in her faith, first I got angrier. Then I got envious until the point that I had to come to her and say, you know, honey, alright, I get it. I get it. Jesus is real. I get it. I have a problem. But I have no idea what to do about this. Because my whole family dynamic, growing up was all about drinking and dysfunction. And I was just not equipped to stop drinking. It was just nothing in me and praise the Lord. She just said to me, all right, let’s pray. And we were sitting in our living room and got down our knees. And after it was 20 something years of drinking from the time I was 12 to my mid-30s. And we prayed. We prayed the Lord for really take it away, and I got up and I haven’t drank since.

Jeff
Wow.

Tom
And at the same time, there were other people who are too many names and were witnessing to me. I was working with a gal who’s a pastor’s wife. And it just was the way God works. It’s usually not just one person. He gets you surrounded.

Jeff
Yeah.

Tom
And he just keeps working. And from that point on, we also had a cult of sorts come and speak to us. And they they said, you know, if you want to be saved, you have to do this, this this and they they cherry picked all of those scary verses in the Bible, like from James, that taken on a context, can be really scary and overwhelming. They left the house and I felt just destroyed. Because I knew I know me. I’m not a type A person. And I know how I was then that I could never live up to any of that. Yeah. And my wife, to her credit, took the Bible said okay, they said that, here you are a lawyer. Look at what this Bible says and decide for yourself. We started studying the Bible together and pretty much took off from there.

Jeff
Wow, that that is an amazing story and look where you are now as Pastor Tom in your head pastor of your church, correct?

Tom
Yeah.

Jeff
Well, I guess we’ll we’ll kind of segue. So that first portion, obviously was telling us your testimony, sharing some of that background in terms of your faith as you’re speaking, obviously, your wife played a very key part in that transformation of where you were in where you are now, would you say you know, if it wasn’t for her, or if it wasn’t for the hand of God, upon your life, where where do you think pastor Tom or what do you think Tom? Right, not even pastor? What do you think Tom would be right now?

Tom
Well, I used to say jokingly that and this is reflects where I was at the time that I would make someone a good ex husband someday, because I just was from such a dysfunctional family – my my dad wasn’t around and my mom had to lots of challenges. I had no ability to interact with the world. I didn’t know how to love people. I didn’t know how to care for people. I didn’t know how to be a full grown adult. So I was just, you know, they say with alcoholism, you get stuck at the age that you start drinking so if not for the Lord, life would have dragged me down, life would have destroyed me. I was well on my way to destroying myself. And there was nothing in me that could fix it.

Tom
That’s that’s what I find so hopeful for others – it was Jesus. Because I know that I never could have gotten to this place by myself. It just there was nothing of background. There’s nothing in me. That could be a loving father, even a loving husband. It’s only the Lord that came and just took hold of me. And then through studying his words, working on Bible study, book studies, watching other men and in the Lord That’s what really changed me.

Jeff
Oh, wow, that is amazing. You know, obviously you’re you’re worried right now. And you know, what role is faith playing now in the way that you lead your family?

Tom
Oh, faith, faith, faith is everything. I named my blog PastorUnlikely, because it’s, it’s just so surprising still that we are here. I told my dad and that I had started a church and becoming a pastor. And his response was it was just he laughed and said, “I never thought we’d have one of those in the family.” Faith is what changed me after getting saved and after living in the joy of Jesus, after living the peace of Jesus for some time, my life before which was so unpeaceful so filled with anxiety so filled with chasing after things that were just not fulfilling our whole as a family. Our goal now is to continue this in faith and follow Christ the best we can.

Tom
My wife is a wonderful woman God and praise the Lord, we both are both very clear on what we want, which is as much Jesus in our life as we can. And then we want to pass that on to our kids, deliberately and on on purpose in what we do. You know, people say, we will leave the choice of religion to our kids, let them grow up, and then I’ll choose at some point. But if you do that you’re already choosing. You’re just choosing not to teach and not to point them and not to raise them up in the Lord. They will have a choice like you said earlier in our discussion, you get to teenage years and then they have a choice to make a decision on their own to follow the faith but until then, you teach them, you point them and let them know the whole family wants to be gathered around Jesus. That’s reflected in our family because You know, my wife helps me all the time with church. And we do Bible study together. And we we encourage each other in the Lord. We do Bible study as a family, with kids. My two oldest children lead worship at church. And we made a decision early on, that once they showed affinity for music, we encourage them in it and encourage them with Christian music and worship and give them opportunities to do it under responsible adults. So when Paul says in the book of Hebrews, or whoever the writer of Hebrews talking about Jesus, to keep your eyes on Jesus, the language indicates that it’s the exclusion of everything else. So as we walk through life, we love people, we look at people, we care about people, but we’re always fixed on Jesus and following him and that living that out all over the place all all through our lives.

Jeff
Yeah, that that is awesome. You know, I was, you know, in my devotions, you know, I read something and it says, you know, if you’re not praying to God for your role as a dad, then you know that, that that’s an issue. That’s a problem, I think, giving our roles as husband, fathers, and leaders to our families, that that is a big role. And that’s part of why that difference is so important to me is that it’s not it’s not something that I’m taking lightly. You know, obviously, we’ve had men in our lives who obviously didn’t step up and be and fill that role as best as they can. And so now it really is up to us to raise our families the best that we can to be those leaders to, you know, foster that environment, and especially as believers in Christ to lead and to lead. Well, so, you know, and that brings me to another question for you, Pastor Thomas. You know, obviously, as a pastor, you’re seen as a spiritual father to some right. How do you balance between a spiritual father to some in your own family, your own natural family?

Tom
That’s a good question. And I think it’s somewhat based on the cultural view of church, and pastoring. You do have to balance home and church. But the requirements for being a pastor or an elder from First Timothy and Titus, are all public things that should be present at the time someone decides that they are called to be pastor. So they’re, they’re required to have a good reputation among the community. they’re required to have their house in good order. They’re required to lead well and be able to teach. So it’s, it’s just what is present at the time, just expressed in a different position.

Tom
I remember when when I first read these, first Timothy three in particular, I thought that was going to be impossible, and I no plans to be a Pastor when I first got saved or really until God said, hey, you’re gonna be a pastor. But when I first read them I thought the requirements were a crushing burden, “How could I ever do this? Who could never live to this?” But then walking with the Lord for years and just walking after him and watching him work on me and and just changing me and him changing my heart, changing my desires changing, taking away the alcohol, taking away a lot of things that that just were not good and it got to a point where when God called me that this was just who I am. So like the requirement that you need to be a good father, once you take that, which is leadership, which is teaching, which is encouraging, which is loving, it’s just transferring that ability to lead your family well to the church. So, yes, there’s a huge requirement that you have to have good boundaries, because pastoring can take your entire life. Yeah. And I call it sacrificing your family on the altar of ministry, where you’re just at church all the time administering all the time and you neglect your family. And I never want to do that. But I think it’s just who you are applied just in just different spheres in church or at home.

Jeff
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. So that that kind of wraps up the family part of it. You know, we talked a little bit about faith family now obviously, you mentioned that your relationship with your father was not the not the greatest Can you just give us a little bit what that’s like when you did come into contact with them and mentioning that your dad and his dad, were both alcoholics, what affects or what did you see in you know, What effect did that have while you were growing up?

Tom
Oh, boy. That’s a tough question. It’s, it’s a thing that that you can come to grips with, but it never really goes away. Yeah, I love my dad and my dad is a smart and talented man. I’m okay with it now. But as a kid, my dad is a fireman and he’s charismatic guy. And he’s literally a hero. So living under the shadow of someone who is a hero Who’s this, this giant figure, but also is just not there at all for you. And when he was my dad was, I call it the prototypical “disapproving dad” figure, where he’s kind of distant. He makes you work for approval. And he, he makes you kind of grovel to get his attention. And then when he does, when you do get attention, it feels like the greatest thing in the world. And then at whim, this personality will just cut you down for for no apparent reason, just to keep control.

Tom
So that was extremely painful and the alcoholism on top of that was there’s a whole family dysfunction that you just get caught up in. And the result is for, particularly for those in dysfunctional families, you wind up either following along into dysfunction, meaning you get swept away and usually wind up just as much an addict just as much as of an alcoholic or an abuser as your parent or you react against it. And when you react against it, you’re angry and you’re bitter and resentful, then the result is you’re still being dictated to by the dysfunction. And you’re trapped. Either way, you know that that’s where Jesus really comes in. Because he’s what, what sets you free from other people. He is the one that allowed me to forgive and let my family go and just live for Him. And all that this huge weight just came off in my back and years of pain and resentment and loss. I discovered that I had a father in heaven that was so much better. Jesus never abandoned me and was always looking out for me and was speaking to me even as calling to me as a young boy, and it was just so much better.

Jeff
And you mentioned two things that obviously could be their their own topics and episodes. But the first one is real briefly. Obviously, forgiveness is key. throughout this whole thing. I’ve learned that I’ve learned that in order for you to kind of move out of the past and really what you were dealt in the pain that was dealt, you have to forgive and what did that look for you in terms of forgiving your father? What What did forgiveness look like for you in how was that whole process and journey?

Tom
The first part was was kind of ridiculous and it’s not it’s not the best example. This is before. Like, why before I stopped drinking before Christ. I was at a bar and it was is not a good example. But I was complaining about my family and complaining about the situation and just trapped in the constant cycle of harping on things and talking about all the hurts and not really trying to make it better. And my cousin just turned to me and said, “All right, I get it. You’ve had a really bad life up to this point. What do you want to do from this point on? You can sit here complaining, or you can do something different.” And that that was the beginning of “Okay, I get it. I’m not trapped by the past.”

Tom
But it really came to fruition when I came to Christ and got to know my father in heaven, and just how great he was. And I was still trapped. I was still longing and still trying to fix it and still trying. And I had a conversation with my dad, and I hadn’t talked to him for years at that point. And I just said, Alright Dad, I’m going to stop drinking. I know how hard it is, I know what this does to you, and I’m not mad at you. He just was just kind of like, okay, whatever. And no, that’s not what I’m going to do. And I realized that, okay, that that’s him. I’m not beholden to him, and that pain that I had a longing that I had, and this desire for a relationship with him, was not really with him. I love him, and I love him with the love of Christ, but it was this imaginary relationship. Yeah, just based on you mentioned in one of your episodes, the father wound. My expectations were just was not real in some ways and just sitting back and realizing that just allowed me to let him go and let him stand before the Lord and let the Holy Spirit work on him. And he will stand or fall based on the decisions he makes and we’ve subsequently reconciled. But it led me God and let me turn to my family and say, all right, family, I’m all yours. I am not trapped by the past anymore.

Jeff
That is so good. Forgiveness is key. It is important. So obviously, you know, it gives us an image of forgiveness is you know more for you really to let go and be present and be there. The best you can really that that brings us to the last part, the last pillar fatherhood. The first question I have for you is now in the role of being a father to four kids, right, two boys, two girls. Yeah, just like me. Yeah. I love it. You could ask for anything better. Did you feel properly equipped to become a father and a husband?

Tom
I didn’t. I wasn’t properly equipped to be an adult. father and a husband. I distinctly remember when my oldest was born, and she is now 18. And we were in the delivery room. The nurse said turned to me and said “Do you want to hold your Baby?” and I was kind of like, not really no. I did but but I had never held a baby, I’d never put on diaper. I’d been the youngest of three in an alcoholic family. I was basically the afterthought so I didn’t really have any parenting of me much less any idea how to parent anyone else so I felt completely ill equipped.

Jeff
Yeah, obviously we don’t get we don’t get a fancy manual when we leave that hospital room. You know, I was joking on one of my episodes are not really joking. But it really came to the idea that you know, as I’m leaving, you know, this was with our firstborn. As we’re leaving, I feel like something is missing. You know, my wife’s in the wheelchair getting strolled out. I’m carrying the baby she has the bags I’m like man, what is missing? We have the baby. We have my wife I’m here bags are here. It came to the realization how man we are now. taking home. A Living baby, a living human that we are going to have to take care of now, whether you’re prepared or not, whether you have felt prepared, it’s go time, you know, it’s go time. And I think, you know, fatherhood kind of pushes you into that whole parenthood period pushes you into that, you know whether you’re ready or not. It’s go time, and it’s really doing the best you can. And so how about a husband? Did you feel properly prepared? Or during the time that you went? Did you ever feel that you can properly care in love? truly love somebody else?

Tom
You know, I did. But I didn’t really know what love was. Yeah. So I thought I was doing good job. But really this is where the little one comes i and I call children – I tell people all the time that children are a little sanctification machines, because they want what they want.

Jeff
Yeah.

Tom
And they don’t care what you want, as it should be. We’re there to care for them. So, at the beginning, when we first have had our oldest we, I was really still focused on me, and, and my needs and my wants. And I was constantly mad that I had to get up and I had to do the stuff and not getting sleep and would get angry with my wife and say, you know, well, you went out yesterday and you had a walk, I need to get out today. So the love that I thought was normal was really just a demand to be made happy. And my wife made me happy. And my wife’s a wonderful woman. And I wasn’t a horrible person, but just everything was filtered towards whether it made me happy or not. And I was passing I was also passing along a lot of that disapproving dad thing because that’s the only thing I knew what I saw.

Jeff
Yeah.

Tom
So I was just difficult, for no apparent reason. And then when I got saved, and when the Lord really just broke me and showed me that I was, I was unable to be the person that I thought it was. There was also First Corinthians 13. Love is patient love. We started church to this point and I thought I was doing great.

Tom
I’d gotten saved and I thought I was taking care of the kids. But I was still just grappling with my selfishness, which I still do today. But then I heard First Corinthians 13 for the first time and the pastor challenged everyone saying, “okay, you know where it says love in there, put your name, see, see how you’re doing.” And I thought and walked in the church that day thought thought I was doing great, thought it was the nicest, coolest father and nicest husband. And doing that just destroyed me.

Jeff
Yeah,

Tom
and particularly the love is king and then throw in the example of Jesus who is kind and gentle and loving and supporting even when someone’s wrong, he doesn’t beat them up about it. He is forgiving and picks them up and dust them off and puts them back on the road. And I was just crushed. I was destroyed. And it was just the Lord showing me that there was so much me and not a lot of him in my everyday walk. And it was one of those big moments in my life. And after that point, and you know, I said the Lord did this stuff, but but it’s also takes a lot of effort. Sure, I’m sure you’ve seen this and you do it yourself. But we went to classes and we read books, and we do Bible study, my wife and I talk about everything, to try to get better at the things that that are important. It’s not just a magical thing. That sometimes, like with me and alcohol, God will take them away in a minute and that is great, but it also takes effort and work and determination, which is great.

Tom
You know what, there’s many people out there who from our similar background, who feel trapped, who feel like they can’t do anything because of their background. Saying “I don’t know how to be a husband. I don’t know how to be a father.” That might be true. And you might have done terrible things in the past, but with the redemption of Jesus with the promises of Jesus, all you need to do is say, All right, I’m done. Yeah, I’ll follow you from this moment on. You wash me clean and you equip me and I’m gonna follow you and learn.

Jeff
Yeah. And so really that’s what it’s about, you know, it’s about relinquishing what we think we can do with our own mind with our own power and just surrendering that, you know, and as we lead to be more like Christ, you know, that begins to change us the way that we are and the way that will lead as husbands and fathers. So we are getting ready to end here and I have a few just two bonus sign off questions for you, Pastor Tom and the first one would be what advice would you give to your younger self about father, younger self need to do a lot of advice?

Tom
Well, you know, the biggest thing is just that the gospel because Jesus is who is behind everything. I had gone to to religious High School in college, but I didn’t understand who Jesus was. I didn’t understand why He was important. Just to grab on to the redemption that is offered through the cross that He died on for us. He’s not going to throw us aside. He wants to do a work through everyone who calls themselves and identifies themselves through Him. So first would just be to to come to Jesus.

Tom
But then the second just to enjoy life. Particularly when our oldest was a baby, we were so stressed. We were so worried about everything. And we as I said, I was arguing about what I had to do and I missed out on the enjoyment of it. With the first child, I was always arguing, you know, “I don’t want to get up with the baby, you get up” during the night. By the third child, I chose that as my service to my wife and to the Lord and I found that it was fun. I enjoyed waking in the middle of the night and I would sit on the couch and watch YouTube worship videos and feed the baby. Just worship the Lord in the middle of night – there’s joy in these things that that would I really missed out on in the younger ages.

Tom
And then the last thing is just as the kids get older to not be passive be inactive dad. I don’t know if you’ve seen the dads who are constantly frustrated with their kids. And they they can see they’re doing stuff but they don’t do anything about it.

Jeff
Yeah,

Tom
That doesn’t mean be hyper controlling. It doesn’t mean be authoritarian, but take active steps if they’re doing stuff, if they are going off the rails. Do it always with love or humility, always with the gentleness of Christ but step in and lead. We only have usually what 18 years maybe to really lead the kids.

Jeff
and so I think that is probably a good place to stop once again, Pastor Tom, I want to thank you for coming on why don’t you go ahead and let the people know where they can find you and the pastor unlikely blog.

Tom
Yeah, so I’m at Pastor unlikley.com. Also our podcast is Come Let Us Disciple and if you are in Maryland, we are Calvary, Catonsville church. So we teach line by line through the Bible every Sunday starting verse one going all the way through the Bible trying to equip the believers the work of the ministry.

Jeff
Awesome.

Jeff
Well, thank you pastor Tom, I appreciate your time. As I always like to say to all the dads don’t stop being present don’t stop being different. You know, it doesn’t matter what your past was, you know, let’s just be the best that we can. Let’s be committed to leading our families well, so once again, my name is Jeffrey and I am the host of the dad different podcast and I will catch you guys on the next episode.

Come Let Us Disciple Podcast Pastor Unlikely

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