I have been struggling with my older son.
It’s my fault.
The struggles have been myriad, and are mainly due to baggage I brought with me from my previous life. We became a family in 2008, and he was 4 at the time. He’d already had 4 years with my wife’s awesome family, and had learned about many things I had no idea about growing up.
He grew up with the best Grandparents probably ever, and they did all they could to help my wife teach him how to be a man, using all the tools given them. I cannot think of a better example of the sort of man I would want my sons to be like than their grandfather. He loves God, and serves God, and does not put himself first. He takes care of his family, and he took care of mine, too, for the first year of my marriage.
That baggage I was talking about. What I brought to my marriage and new life as father to a 4 year old boy was the lessons I’d learned about parenting from my own father. He was very old school, and had some particular ideas about what kids should be like, boys especially. These ideas I brought with me to my marriage, and it didn’t matter that I told myself I was not going to be like him. I was. So when my son would do things any little boy would do, I held them up to my father’s standards for me. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until fairly recently.
I have to find a way around that. I am not my dad, and my son is not me.
It wasn’t that my dad talked about how he expected things to be—he didn’t talk about much at all, except to get pissed about things and yell every once in a while. I could just tell what he seemed to wish I was like based on the things he liked to do, things I would tag along for because I liked to be with him, but never really got a taste for.
He liked to sail, and I got seasick constantly. I sailed with him, though, because I liked to be around him and I wanted to get to the point where he wanted to be around me. I don’t know that he didn’t, but I also don’t know that he did, because he never talked about it, ever. I can’t recall a single occurrence of my dad talking about feelings—his, or anyone else’s.
I assume he loved me because he was my dad, but he never told me that I can remember.
I don’t want to be that guy—that father—so I try and be as vocal as I can with the boys about how I feel. I am not sure how much the baby understands, but I want him to know from the beginning how I feel. So I tell him. I tell them.
Still, it can get frustrating sometimes, because whether he knows it or not, my older son brought some things into our family as well. I believe his age when we met (4) until maybe a couple years from now is one of the times in our lives when we form the core parts of our personality. It is when we are the most malleable and just soak up things like those big, round sponges you see people use in bathtub scenes in older movies.
Anyway, what my son brought to this particular table is also not his fault. He brought what he does remember (not much) of his father, who was not much of a father at all, and does not deserve to be. Not of this boy. This boy is good, and should be treated as such.
Sometimes I wonder, though, if my son does not remember this man at times, and expect what he remembers from me.
Another thing is that all the things I love so much about my wife are also present in this strong, willful, resourceful, and very intelligent young man.
This means there are times when we butt heads. From what I understand from my wife, this is exactly what she was like as a child.
What occurred to me this morning was that if I want things to be different—and if I want him to be different—there are certain things I must and must not do.
The first thing is that I must be different.
If I want him to be more generous, I need to teach him about generosity, not how to hold onto things.
If I want him to be more loving of other people beyond himself, I need to teach him about God, and the message of Jesus.
If I want him to be respectful of myself and others, then I need to do the same, starting with him.
If I want him to speak in a kind manner, then….well, so do I, even when I don’t feel like it.
And the truth is, he will learn from me, whether I purposefully teach him or not. So will the baby.
That being said, I believe serving God with my whole heart is a good place to start. So is prayer. Neither of those things will change God—they will change me.
Because I believe the way a boy looks at his father is the way he looks at God. He won’t necessarily mean to, but he will. That’s what I did, and that’s what was at the core of many of my preconceived notions about Jesus and what I meant to Him.
I don’t want my sons going through the same things about me.
The truth is that because he did not tell me, I have no idea what I meant to my father on earth. It is not the same with my father in heaven.
He tells me through the love I receive from my wife and my kids when I am worthy of little but dismissal at the very best.
He tells me when He guides me beside the still waters.
He tells me when he restores me from the callow and broken thing I once was to the broken but healing man I am today.
What will I tell my kids about that? How will I tell my kids about that?
How will I not? I have to. Kids respect truth. They understand it. If I want them to understand who I am today, and understand how I got there, then they need to know the whole story.
That’s how God will reach them.
Anyway, I guess what I have to do is just love them both the same, and treat them both the same, and show them God loves them, too. I will show them by leading my life in such a way they have no doubt who my father in Heaven is.
One more thing, and this is really a comment about self image, which for me was powerfully negative early on in my life. It was that self-image that drove me to find any way I could so that I would not have to look at it, or myself. Only God could really alter that image in any sort of real way, and one day did.
This was a very clear picture I got several years ago, and I wish I had the artistic skill to draw or paint it. All I have is words.
A roughly callused but gentle hand holds an oyster in an opened palm. The shell is hard and covered with the slime and sediment the bottom of the ocean brings. It is cracked slightly open, and a small amount of water smelling of the sea leaks from within.
Another hand appears, holding a short-bladed knife with a curved blade. The blade is inserted into the slightly opened oyster, and slips around the edge, forcing the shell open little by little. Finally, it pops open and sits in the hand as if it were waiting for something.
Resting on top of the oyster’s flesh sits a small object, which on first glance looks like a pebble, or possibly a chunk of shell. It’s also covered in a thin layer of slime, peppered here and there with grains of sand and sediment.
The hand gently lifts the object from the shell, and discards the remains. Slowly, it begins to clean the sediment and slime from the object, filth that took a lifetime to accrue. A soft glow begins to appear as the truth of the object is revealed, and in the end, it is not a pebble at all.
It is a small and shining pearl.
A pearl of great price.
I know that won’t make much sense to a lot of people, and that is OK. It makes sense to me. I think the key to understanding my kids, and having them understand and learn from me the way I would very much like them to is helping them to understand where I came from, so they can understand where they came from.
I hope I can teach them that.
I certainly plan to try.