Tag Archives: Life Lessons

Generations The changing nature of fathering through many seasons

It seems like I am entering a new stage as a father. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m already in the middle of it.

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Today is Father’s Day, and that has me thinking of what it means to be a father.

It’s certainly not just this particular holiday that stirred these thoughts. My conversations lately have been laden with question, wondering, weighing, judging my own thoughts and actions toward my children. This has been equalled by a deeper appreciation for the two men who are fathers to me. (And maybe even the generations before me, though the perceived impact is less direct.)

To raise a person is a humbling process.

The most notable changes (to me) deal completely with personhood. Years ago, I was mostly relied upon to change diapers, feed mouths, and manage the funding to pay for daily and yearly needs. As the Small Ones grew, so did my input to their lives. Reading, teaching, listening, discussing, reprimanding, exhorting, challenging, cheering. All these things I have done, and still do.

And through each stage, I have consistently—in times of reflection—become more aware of what my father not only did for me, but also felt and experienced, too.

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Now I look at a young man—who, not coincidentally, mirrors my teenage visage—and wonder at how I am to continue to father him. Do I continue to decide for him, protect him, do for him? Yes. I think. But all the more (and he feels it, too) I feel a strong pull to release. To allow more and greater freedoms, to choose his own way—even if he is damaged, or damages in the releasing.

That goes against all I have done for a time that spans nearly seventeen years now. How can I change?

Then I look around me and see a boy of thirteen, his brother’s shadow, who longs to escape both that shadow and the close oversight of his father; and mother. Not merely to reject; nor rebel. More so to be. To be a person. Himself.

It is even becoming evident in my first daughter. She is “only” eleven, but wanting to be all of her oldest brother’s age, experience, freedoms. She can not. Time has not made her an equal with him. She will forever be chasing him. (Unless she relinquishes the chase of her own choosing.)

Beyond those Children-Becoming-People, we have three more Small Ones who laugh and play and love (and fight, and fight back) … and remind me of the familiar stage of fathering.

Through all of this, maybe especially as I am noticing the markedly different stage of relationship with my oldest children, I truly do grow in appreciation for my own father, and the father of my children’s mother. I often see the differences between each of them and myself—that’s so easy to do, no?—but in such times, I see the mirror of me. I smile at the thought that they have been here, too—and, on the whole, all is well beyond.

I am not yet old, but I’m moving toward it. I have less hair than I did before I was a father. My beard shows a few gray hairs, perhaps. But the men whom I call Dad proudly display in their faces and bodies the years of experience I hope to have. Watching their own children become and be People. Learning to navigate the new stages of relationship, as Dad.

It’s not bad. It’s more good than I probably realize. It’s not easy. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

All I hope is that my kids know—without doubt—that I will always love them, more than they can know (maybe until they have offspring of their own), and far beyond that, they are loved beyond knowing by their Creator.

If I can help them to know that, and to live in love because of that, these challenges will have all been worth whatever cost they have levied.

Then, blessing beyond blessing, the Ones God has given me to raise would know the same things I am knowing now.

If Jesus does not return, may that be so.

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Untended Strawberries

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It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.

We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.

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See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!

But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.

Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)

After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!

This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.

And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.

What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.

Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)

But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.

And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!

Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?

I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.

It’s hard to not do anything.

But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.

It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.

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Running

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For a few weeks now I’ve been stepping up my morning routine. I have been rising somewhere in the five o’clock hour on most days and try to be out the door at, or before the sun rises. I enjoy the quiet, solitude, and coolness of the dawn hours.

Since January I’ve been doing pretty well at resuming my morning walk routine. A few years back this was a regular habit of mine, but it had been buried by many other activities vying for priority in my life. When I finally decided to change my eating habits (again) I also picked up the walking habit.

Then one day I tried running.

It was strangely difficult, and also easier than I thought it might be.

I’ve tried running before. One of my biggest problems with running is not actually with running—the problem is me. I’m fast. I run fast. So even when I am trying to jog, my “jog” is faster than many might run! This, as you might guess, quickly depletes one’s energy supply—too quickly! I could never run very far, so I stuck to walking.

But I’ve pushed through it this time. I’ve been running a mile or two, usually three or four days a week. One recent morning, as I covered just under 2.5 miles, I realized I’ve learned a few things.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

The very first day, my feet felt as though I’d never actually run at all! Ever! I couldn’t quite find a good gait. I felt stiff, awkward, and was getting tired again. But I was determined to really give it a good effort, and I pushed through it.

That day I probably only ran about half a mile, two separate times—with a break, and some walking in the middle. But I was happy with what I had accomplished.

As I have continued, I’ve added a bit more distance, and I’ve grown more comfortable overall. But over these few weeks I have noticed that, for me, the beginning is still surprisingly difficult.

Without fail, the first hundred steps or so (it’s not very far!) are stiff, awkward, and oppressive. I just want to stop. But I’ve already learned that once I push past that very short beginning, I settle into the steady pace I am looking for and I run for a long time after that before I even think about it again.

Of course, even before I have dressed, stretched, and headed out the door, the other hard part is just getting up! There are many days when I debate with myself the pros and cons of braving whatever weather awaits me, only to push my body to its sweaty limits—even though I was looking forward to the morning’s run when I closed my eyes the night before.

It seems that getting started is, perhaps, the hardest part.

Discouragement Will Come

Another thing I’ve noticed is that somewhere along the way, despite the groove I’ve attained early in the run, and even if what I’m listening to in my headphones is still holding my interest… I start to feel like I “should quit”.

My body begins to notice its tiredness. My limbs are looser than I want them to be. My brain starts the debate afresh: “Maybe that’s enough for today? You’re getting pretty winded. This is starting to be a bit uncomfortable…”“But, I haven’t gone as far as I’d like to… I did more than this yesterday, didn’t I?”

I have so far been able to press through those moments of wanting to quit. Each time that I have, I find myself regaining that steady pace, finding my second wind, and—almost unintentionally—the debate subsides. Peace is restored, and I can pursue the next short goal.

Attainable Goals

I have found that mentally setting short goals helps me immensely. Looking ahead and finding the next bend in the path, or an opening, or a large tree… any marker in the distance that I can press toward, especially in those discouraging moments.

It’s really amazing to me how much this helps.

I have marked out a place on my normal running path where I know there is only a short distance left to go. When that place is in view, I prepare myself for my final push. Once I reach that marker I begin running at what I used to call my “running” pace. It’s not a sprint, but it’s pretty fast. When you’ve already been running a while, this is harder than I imagine it to be—every time!

But with a short goal in sight, I have made it every time.

(And once the goal is reached, I happily suck in all the air my lungs can accommodate and resume a much slower walking pace!)

Sweat, Feel Good, Do It Again!

I walk fast. My arms move, aiding my gait, and I generally maintain a 4 MPH pace over a two-mile stretch. This does work up a sweat, but it’s surprising how a slow-and-steady run at about 5.5 MPH increases the amount of work my body is doing, which greatly increases the sweating!

But it does feel good. It’s a really good, sweaty exhaustion. When I reach home I walk a bit more around our yard, regaining my breath. A few glasses of water soon rehydrate me. A nice warm shower cleans and refreshes me.

And I feel awake, alive, and ready for whatever is next.

I know that I also feel much better in general than I have for a long time.

I am NOT a runner. I know runners. They’re crazy! 🙂 And I do not presume to even be mentioned in the same conversation with these dedicated, 26.2-mile-running stalwarts.

But I do think I might keep this up. For a while at least.

I might need a new pair of shoes…

Natural Consequences

handsParenting is not for the faint of heart.

It starts out with no sleep, lots of messes to clean up (including many dirty bottoms per day), fussy meal times, and plenty of time just trying to figure out what makes this new person tick!

Then you reach the mobile stage and it become exponentially harder. Naps—a parent’s best friend in the early years—become less frequent, until they cease altogether. Here, the very early stages of exerting one’s autonomy begin with practice and mastery of the word, “No!”

And then, Mom & Dad are tired.

But the persistent, caring parent will see it through. Being consistent with expectations and consequences will help the young child understand what is required, and with proper instruction, learn what is good and what is bad. It certainly takes effort and ridiculous amounts of repetition, but in the end, the goal is establishing a foundation of respect (even love) for what is good and a healthy fear of what is wrong.

Then come the teen years.

We have a great teenager. Honestly, though we butt heads so much with our confident, brash, gregarious young man, he is heads and shoulders above many of his peers in many ways. (Don’t worry, I also frequently address humility and pride with our young protégé…) 🙂

However…

The biggest problem is this: when one is approaching adulthood, one begins to fancy himself as already sufficiently learned, thus shunning sage advice from elders. (Also, notably, one leans generally towards haste when of the male gender.)

And so, when I draw upon my nearly fifteen years of parenting experience, I often want to revert to previous parenting techniques—restrict! It’s very easy for me to observe and understand all the variables, and then establish the rules. “Don’t do that in response to this” or “Do this when …”

That’s easy, but is it really helpful?

The simple answer is, of course it’s not. The best way for anyone to learn is through experience, and even better, through failure. The natural consequences of our choices and actions (or inactions) will often teach us more than any lesson, speech, class, book, video, seminar… anything intended to train by instruction. Real life is nearly always superior.

Why then is it so difficult to allow natural consequences to instruct our older children? Not only would that be easier, in a way, it would also seemingly have better results, no? Is it maybe just me who struggles to allow poor choices to be the best teachers my son can have? Probably not.

Now, I’m certainly not advocating a complete relaxing of all rules. Surely there are some standards of behavior toward others in our home that must be upheld. But in regards to personal care, time management, taking care of personal possessions, work ethic, even money management, there may be more leeway. And, of course, aside from the general life skills—above all—we hope to instill in our children a good understanding of who Jesus is, and that they can trust Father with their whole lives. We won’t stop instruction, or offering advice, but might all be better off if Natural Consequences for choices and actions against that advice are allowed to teach rather than structured consequences, or stricter “rules”?

I really think that’s true. Difficult to put into action, but true.

Isn’t this a bit like grace? We are accepted—no, we were accepted before we even understood what grace is, and who Jesus is. We are sought out. Bought at an unfathomable price. The choice of the One who made all, owns and commands all … he pursues us. AND, he allows us full, unfettered freedom to choose to walk alongside him. We are not forced. So why do we persist in “forcing” our children?

I’m really not sure.

Honestly, this goes beyond parenting, doesn’t it? Why would we not want to allow more freedom—read: less judgment—toward others, if natural consequences are the best way to learn and grow? Rather than manipulative expectations of the others around us, perhaps grace and reasonable latitude are better for all—everyone; every time? At least, nearly every.

I intend to look for more ways to employ this philosophy. So look out—it might get a bit messy!

Somehow, though, experience has shown, the best things in life are often the messiest.