Category Archives: Parenting

Lent’s Compass. Day Fourteen: The Super-man God (Continued).

A friend objects: Can’t God do any or all of those things you listed yesterday? If God is all-powerful, then why couldn’t that be the case?

I suppose God could. That’s not the real issue.

A few weeks ago, Sweets handed me several pieces of torn rubbery plastic “Polly Pocket” clothing and asked, “Daddy, can you fix this?” I looked at the pieces and realized there wasn’t any hope. I did what most Dads do. I told her I’d try. I added that I wasn’t sure that anything could be done. She’s approaching nine and is becoming aware that even if it’s somehow possible, her Dad has limited skills. She’s young enough that she doesn’t hold that against me. Yet. Time was, when she truly believed that I could find a way to repair most things. She’d look at me with puppy eyes, present what needed repair, and say, “Daddy?” I would do what I could to meet her requirements. Often I prevailed upon the gods of Target, Walmart and Amazon, along with the angel Google, to achieve the desired result.

If the way God is present in your life is to rescue you from situations where you didn’t plan, or use your time well. If your primary act of faith is that you turn to God the way my daughter used to turn to me? Then God is someone you’re using to meet your needs. A Super-man, not the one we ask to “make us true servants.”

Make us true servants to all those in need , filled with compassion
in thought word and deed: loving our neighbor, whatever the cost,
feeding the hungry and finding the lost.

Lord, make us prophets to cry out the way, telling the nations of
mercy’s new day. Let us break barriers of hatred and scorn,
speaking of hope to all people for lorn.

Lord, make us healers of body and mind; give us your power to
bring sight to the blind; Love to the love- less and gladness for pain,
Filling all hearts with the joy of your name.
~ Susan G Wente

Lent’s Compass. Day Twelve: A Human Love

As Christians we are not meant to be less human than other people, but more human, just as Jesus of Nazareth was more human.
One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally, he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.”
That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.
~ Madeleine L’Engle Walking On Water, pp  59-60.

As a parent I identify with L’Engle’s conversation with Canon Tallis. It’s not that Sweets or Bud have ever done anything that was “that destructive.” Still, the days where I could look at them for hours are gone. Even before they could talk they were the “most beautiful boy” and the “most beautiful girl” I’d ever seen. I know, yours were too.

Don’t get me wrong, I marvel at the people they’re becoming. It’s just that when they catch me, it’s not cooing or a cutely mashed up word I hear. There are no new Vinny Mans or Popscillos. They don’t just talk. They talk back. “Dad, why are you staring at me?” or “Dad? You can leave my room now.” Those are not the most pleasant interactions.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do a better job at parenting? When Bud was young and needed a nap things were easy. I’d put him in the bouncy chair or take him on a five minute car ride and he’d fall asleep within a few minutes. Now it seems that most of my tactics raise anxiety instead of reducing it. With him. With me. Sometimes their mom calls to vent. In measured tones she says, “You’re not going to believe what he just said to me.” She describes what’s happened. What she tells me, is the same thing he said to me a day or two before. I sigh. It’s not me. I know that now. Most of the time. But it’s nice to have that confirmation.

Bud is becoming his own person. Sweets is often fast to imitate her big brother. That’s double trouble from two fabulous kids whom I love dearly. And now I remember that the five minute car ride eventually turned into a twenty minute one with the heat on. They stopped when he and later she were done with naps. Their mom and I had no say in the matter.

There are bunches of changes to come as Bud moves through his teenage years and Sweets follows. Individuation is like that. Bud’s already showing me that he hasn’t only learned the lessons his mom and I were trying to teach him. He’s absorbed everything. He’s going to continue to do so. Me? I’m not sure I’m a better parent today than I was ten years ago. I am different. There’s no Super Dad. Just a guy who tries to love him as much as I can.

Lent’s Compass. Day One: Agape Dogs

“The Greeks, as usual, had a word for the forgiving kind of love which never excludes. They called it agape. . . . Agape means “a profound concern for the welfare of another without any desire to control that other, to be thanked by that other, or to enjoy the process.” Not easy. But if we can follow it, it will mean that we will never exclude. . . . Not the people who have hurt us . . . or the people to whom we have done wrong. . . . It teaches me not only about forgiveness but about how to hope to give guidance without manipulation.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Sweets and Bud often argue. They love each other dearly, but they’re sibs. They argue. About everything. When feeling are hurt, I ask them to apologize to each other. It’s something they’re more apt to do after the fact, when I can pull them aside and get them to consider whether what they were fighting about was anything important. There are no magic phrases or techniques. The attention they’re given in those moments is magic enough. Often attention is what they wanted in the first place.

Attention is a visible sign that we care for each other. When we give another our full attention, we stop what ever we are doing. We show the other person they mean more to us that the bill we’re paying, the web page we’re viewing or TV show that’s on screen. So we stop. But giving your attention takes time. In the moments when the kids are arguing, time isn’t something I feel I have an abundance of. Even as I try to let them work things out themselves.

Often, after giving them what I measure as enough time to work things out–and seeing their emotions take over–I’ll blow my figurative referee’s whistle. I’ll ask or tell them to “stop arguing and say you’re sorry.” I try to remember to call them both by name when I do, regardless of who initiated the argument or is escalating it. When I forget, which I also do, I hear about it quickly. The opportunity for forgiveness is lost and I immediately become “unfair.” The other child is, my “favorite.” When I remember and they do apologize? They’re as likely to implement a policy of mutually assured rejection as they are to accept the other’s apology. Why? On the face of it because the tone or inflection aren’t right. “You don’t mean it!” is a typical accusation. Even if they are expressing an awareness of the importance of intention–and they are–it’s frustrating.

That’s the crux of the matter. Providing guidance is a substantial part of parenting. At an early age, it’s easy. Kids do just about everything they’re asked. As they grow up and become themselves, that changes. Along the way, intention begins to matter. That’s true of parents as well as kids, I think. Manipulation becomes part of a parent’s toolkit and the child’s. We want to be sure they’re learning the right lessons. We want them to “mean it” and be assured as we can that they do. They want to weigh our motives and gauge our integrity versus their own. Is this necessary? Is it good? I could answer yes or no. And yet, as a Dad, my most satisfying moments don’t come in the good talks I have with the kids. They don’t come from seeing them evaluate intention or realize that they are sincere. The satisfying moments are the ones where I see them love and forgive in a way that embodies what the Greeks meant when they used the word agape.

This Lent, I want to pay attention to how intention gets in the way of my being able to forgive others. To the way it conditions my willingness to forgive. The way it conditions my love. If my love and my forgiveness are tied to your intention or my own, there is nothing agape about them. Imagine having a dog who only loved you when you gave it a treat?

Measures of Permanence.

I wrote a variation of the following in response to this post. “Nobodys Perfect” is a lovely reflection on challenges of parenting that we don’t easily acknowledge. In my experience we’re quick to share both our exasperation with our kids and our pride in their success. The questions we have about whether we’re doing the right thing? Or of the limitations we see our kids facing? We don’t talk about either enough.

Report cards are in. The questions you ask: “What’s the right balance of supporting and challenging your children? How do I inspire them to try to perform well…?” are very real for me. I don’t have answers to them. All I can do is sit with them. If I’m lucky I may live my way into good answers.

Recently I did one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do as a parent.

Bud studies karate. He was invited by his teacher to test with his class for the next level of his belt. After the test there is an awards ceremony. I was there with camera in hand and ready to record a moment of triumph for the family archives. My chest swelled with pride. I waited for Bud’s award to be bestowed.
Instead, the teacher paused and spoke to the rigor of the test the class had taken. He said some students had not passed. Slowly the camera found its way into my bag. I knew. The speech was designed to reset the expectations of the students and their families in attendance. As others around him received their awards, Bud’s head sank.

All I could do was watch. My eyes watered. He glanced my way. How do you comfort from across a room? “It’s Okay, ” I mouthed. There wasn’t anyway of knowing if he’d read my lips. He’s terrible at reading facial expressions so what–if anything that he’d taken from my expression–was impossible to tell. At the ceremonies end his teacher sat with him for a few minutes, giving comfort with his presence as well as detailing what he’d missed on the exam. From there he moved quickly to the locker room, changing and emerging in silence. I reached out to embrace him in a hug. He rebuffed the gesture saying,”Let’s just go.”

Riding home, I asked how he felt. What he thought about his performance. I didn’t know what else to say. I knew I didn’t want to lecture him on his preparation or anything really. I hoped that if he talked about the test, it would help process the experience. The only thing I feared was his taking this moment of failure and giving it a measure of permanence that was undeserved. He can be very hard on himself. I didn’t know what I might say if that was the case.

All I knew is that I wanted him to know that I loved him. And that no test could change that. We arrived at the house. Before he walked in, he turned to me and gave me a bear of a hug. “Thanks,” Bud said.

Ten, twenty, or thirty years from now I’m sure he’ll have forgotten the test. If he remembers it, it will be in the context of passing the second time. That’s not hubris. He was that close. If I’m lucky and relatively consistent, he’ll also remember that his Dad loves him when he succeeds and when he doesn’t.