I called him Don. I never called him dad my whole life. I really wanted his attention. I kind of self-diagnosed myself. I started jumping cars. I found that I had a very unusual jumping
ability as a young teenager. I was winning first place in the high jump, long jump, and hurdles.
His (father) philosophy there with where he was, is that’s all stupid. It’s going to fade away. Nobody cares. It may be true but you don’t tell your kid that if they have dreams and aspirations, right? Dad was just not there emotionally for any of us. He abandoned us a number of times.
He was making me pay rent for my own room while he was sitting there not working. I was tripping over him to go to work to pay rent at the house.
At that time I was wanting to get into commercials. Again, that insecurity was driving me. I wanted to be famous because I didn’t feel like I was much of anything. I thought that would validate me too.
(Interviewed on Late Night with David Letterman)
Between seventeen years old and twenty-five when I set the Guinness Book World of Records, I genuinely started searching. I had no purpose in my life, none. I had stuff but it obviously doesn’t make you happy.
So, I gave my life to the Lord. I continued hearing the Holy Spirit through His word say, “Forgive”. It happened so often, so frequently to the point that I was like, “Okay, God. I get it. Okay.” I don’t have any anger toward anybody. In that same fraction of a second, another word from the Lord came and said, “Honor your father.”
I’m telling you, it would not have hurt me more if you had taken a heated sword and pierced my heart. How dare you ask me to forgive that man. How dare you! You know, he wasn’t there for me. He’s not even due any honor. He did nothing for me. I found my dad living with two other men in a double-wide trailer that looked like it had been at the landfill. I walked in and he was drunk.
I called him Don. I never called him dad my whole life.
I said, “Don, I could have been a better son to you. I could have been more loving, more forgiving, more understanding and I want you to know I ask for your forgiveness. By doing that, I want you to know that I forgive you. I forgive you for not being there at my track meets. I forgive you for not being there for me, mom and Stacey. I forgive you. I understand you probably had some challenges too and I’m not going to judge you for that.” I said, “As a covenant between me and my God from this day forward I’m going to start calling you dad.” I would take him groceries. I would clean him up. I would pick him up out drunk on the ground. Take him to emergency rooms.
I was honored that before he died we were at the hospital. We had just talked to the doctor. He talked about his funeral. He said, “Jeff, I have never had a pastor.” He said, “You have become my pastor and I want you to preach my funeral.”
That’s the beauty of Christ. It’s the beauty of reconciliation. To have that personal experience, it’s life-changing.