By L.A. Stauffer
(All quotations are from “The Family Circle” and from interviews with Leslie’s children. LAS) Leslie Diestelkamp was a captivating preacher, but not the most eloquent among his fellow evangelists; an interesting writer, but not the best trained and most professional among his fellow editors; a meticulous and accurate student of the scriptures, but not the best educated and most scholarly among his fellow disciples. But as a man of God who looked to the ways of his household he had no superiors and few equals. Surely no man questioned the purity and spirituality of his heart so clearly reflected in his godly demeanor and mirrored in the lives of his children unto “the third and … fourth generation of them” who came from his loins.
This devoted father may be among the last of the “grand old patriarchs” who, like his spiritual forefather Abraham, “commanded his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). Few men in modern times leave behind such a long trail of righteous descendants children and their spouses, grandchildren and their spouses, and great-grandchildren. Like Lois and Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5), this respected father saw the image of his “unfeigned faith” in the lives of 50 or more family members, including in-laws.
His experience and success as a husband, father, and grand-father, along with a careful study of the Scriptures, prepared him well for writing and preaching on what he called “The Family Circle.” It also opened him to frequent solicitations for advice about the “secret” of family life. Be assured that his response was there is no “secret” or “magic” formula. To him there were “obvious” principles that must be united with hard work. Those fundamentals he articulated well in his writing and preaching and exemplified forcefully in the laboratory of daily family life.
Seed Beds Of The Kingdom
This esteemed father’s view of family life began with the premise that the “home is the cradle of civilization and the bulwark of the church.” He was fond of describing the home as “the vestibule of heaven.” Fathers and mothers, he believed, are to prepare the hearts of their children for the seed of the kingdom. A child, to him, is “like a tender plant” that you are cultivating, grooming, and directing every day. The preparation of children to receive the seed of the kingdom demands three important principles: (1) a child’s heart must be conditioned to “respect authority” and, (2) and (3) every offspring must learn “honesty” and “morality.” If these qualities were indelibly inscribed into a child’s thinking, the child would be adequately pre-pared and open to the message of Christ.
Leslie stressed, number one, in his preaching on family life the importance of parental example, noting that nothing would more quickly undermine the role and work of parents than inconsistency or hyprocrisy. “There is no power you can have over your children that is equal to the influence of your example.” In Leslie’s favorite illustration of this truth he writes:
How well do I remember a cold day in 1945 or 1946 when I lived in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. My second son, Al, who was then just under school age, had gone with me to the Post Office. We crossed the wet street and stepped up on the dry sidewalk Soon Al dropped behind me and then said, “Daddy, do you know what I am doing?” I said, “No, what are you doing?” He replied, “I am walking in your steps.” You see, the soles of my shoes were wet and they left a dark imprint on the sidewalk. He was stretching his little legs as much as possible to try to step in each track I left. The incident left a deep impression on me. I thought, as I go down the street today, and down the pathway of life in days and years to come, here is a little boy following me. He will go where I go, do what I do and be what I am! Ever since then I have been pleading with parents to recognize the power of their example.
Brethren have disagreed with what Leslie taught or, in some instances, with the way he stated his views. But, to my knowledge, no one ever questioned his sincere faith in Christ, his heartfelt devotion to God, his pure life of morality, and his unwavering spiritual focus in life. His family imitated him the way he imitated his Savior stretching, as it must often have been necessary, to walk in his foot-steps.
Leslie knew so well that the key to success in any relationship was its leadership. He preached that most difficulties in family life can ultimately be traced to the husband, who is the head. “If husbands,” he wrote, “would love their wives as whole-heartedlv and as totally as Christ loved the church, this attitude alone would probably solve most of the difficulties in family circles. Out of his love for her, and as a consequence of his devotion to her, would probably come a reciprocal affection from her.” His children hold no doubt about the love of their father for their mother. While he was always discreet and never improper, he did not hesitate to be “very affectionate toward my mother in our presence.” Leslie taught that a husband should be “the head of the house” taking full responsibility for leadership of the family, financially and spiritually. He considered the wife to be “the heart of the house” giving motherly affection and heartfelt attention to the children. He would quote the old adage: “The hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world.” In his words: “Perhaps no one rises to such a high place of moral goodness, compassionate sympathy and dynamic influence as does the godly mother.”
Fathers . . . “Nurture Your Children”
Leslie observed that children needed more than parents who provided food and shelter “a guiding hand to lead them” and motivation to direct them. He taught that “success is assured when parents begin to train and guide the tender plant even the very first day you take it home from the hospital.” He would say to mothers: “If your baby is old enough to be taken to the doctor’s office, it is old enough to be taken to church services.” He stressed three practices as important:
1. Teaching. In his own home, he insisted on what his sons refer to as “The Lesson,” when the “family circle” gathered together for a Bible reading followed by discussion of the reading, its applications, and any questions. Occasionally it was varied by the reading of a Bible story from Hurlbuts’ Story of the Bible or by “calling out Bible passages and we would see who could turn to it the fastest and read it to everyone.” Leslie would close every study with family prayer.
2. Discipline. This devoted father, as God’s word so eloquently teaches, knew that teaching must on occasion be enforced by discipline. He believed that “an ounce of punishment is worth a pound of threats.” “Punishment, to him, must `hurt’ enough to get attention and make an impression …and must be immediate, certain, fair and reasonable.” “He believed in spanking . . .was firm and consistent .. . and most discipline was delivered with calm, quiet verbal reproof.” When remorse is shown by a child, the parent, Leslie believed, must carefully and lovingly seek reconciliation.
3. Attention. “He recognized ‘attention’ required time shared as a family in wholesome recreation and play and he encouraged such.” Although Leslie believed children need affection and friendship, he was “not enthused about the idea of fathers becoming buddies to their sons or mothers being pals to their daughters.” He was never the “huggy” type father . . . but he was not aloof and while “he was not an outwardly affectionate man . . . there was never any doubt about his affection.”
My own relationship with Leslie Diestelkamp, on the golf course, in many personal conversations, and in the intimacy of his home during a week’s stay confirm the quality of life described in this article. I have, more than once, been the butt of his rebukes, the recipient of his commendation, and the beneficiary of his daily “Lesson.” I never knew him to be openly affectionate to either men or women, but neither did I ever doubt his genuine love and concern for me and all members of God’s family. Many mentors have influenced my life as scholars, as preachers, as teachers, as debaters, as intimate friends, etc., but no man touched my soul with the unblemished purity and genuine spirituality that Leslie Diestelkamp did. I mean that sincerely, brethren. And, to me, it was the key to the pervasive, patriarchal influence that flowed so endlessly from generation to generation down to the youngest of his great-grandchildren.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 18-19
December 7, 1995