Do you remember how I used to give you grief for how you treated David and Derek differently than you did me and Stephen after I left for college? I still remember my first trip home for the weekend. After dinner, you got up and washed the dishes while they walked out of the room. I stood there in shock watching you wash dishes for what had to have been the first time in my life (at least as I remember it). I felt jaded by that. Knowing that this chore was rotated amongst the four of us boys when I was living at home, this simple act seemed to communicate that David and Derek were different…special…somehow more important. In the ignorance of my youth, I didn’t understand…I didn’t get it. I just want you to know something…I get it now.
Last week, I was walking into the store with all three kids, and NE and SD were walking ahead of me. SI, stuck his little arms up at me and said “I wand you hole me.” And as I looked down into his admiring eyes, arms stretched up waiting for me to pick him up, a thought crossed my mind. I realized that it was at about this age I stopped carrying NE as much, making him walk more often than I carried him. And while I realized that NE likes his independence…prefers to walk beside me now, rather than be carried…I knew that I’d trained him that way. My strictness in making him do things for himself – while done with the good intention of teaching him to be self-supportive – had taught him to stop asking me to carry him. Even more important…what also occurred to me was that it won’t be much longer that they’ll both be too big for me to carry…that my youngest boy is growing up faster than I prefer. The baby years are gone, and we’re in the toddler years. Before I know it, I won’t be able to carry him even if I wanted to. So as I picked SI up and enjoyed the moment for what it was…one of the fewer and fewer opportunities I have left to hold on to my youngest child for as long as I can…the memory of my first weekend home from college in the fall of 1991 came to me like an epiphany. As I hugged SI close to me, walking into the store I knew…and I get it now.
Ju and I attended a marriage conference this weekend, and while I took a lot away from it, one of the things the pastor said that really stuck in my head was that “wedding vows are not a declaration of current love. They’re a promise of future love.” He followed that with 30 minutes of showing us that when we stood at the alter and made those vows, there was no way to foresee the future and know who we would be. There was no way to predict how the pain of family sickness and death would change our spouse…no way of knowing how having four children would change us…no way of knowing what life events lay before us that would change us. While certainly true for the marriage relationship, God opened my eyes to the reality that what he’s saying here is also true for every relationship, including the parent/child relationship. And I get it now.
Lots of “parenting experts” say that parents need to be consistent in their parenting style with every child…discipline each the same…show affection to each the same…etc. And I agree, that if not done with delicate balance, treating each child differently can have disastrous results. Conversely, I see that it’s quite honestly just not possible to do. The thing is…as I’ve aged, I’ve changed. I’m not the same man I was when I first became a father. As I learn from my mistakes, my parenting style changes. As I see what others do that works…and what doesn’t work…I adapt my own style a little. As I age, God reveals to me little by little what is important and what is not as important as I once thought…and my heart softens a little. As my relationship with our heavenly Father grows and strengthens, I learn more from Him about how to be a dad, and I grow and mature in how I father. I’m just not the same dad I was when I first became one 12 years ago. I think I’ve known this for awhile subconsciously, but it was just this weekend that God truly revealed it to me…and I get it now.
It’s not that we love one more than the other or that we set out to treat them differently. It’s that each child holds a different piece of our ever-changing heart. Granted, my time “in the seat” of fatherhood is far subordinate to your experience, but when I reflect back on my time as a dad, I can already see how my parenting style has changed to reflect the various stages of my life. As I watch my children grow, I’m hit with the realization that in the grand scheme of things, my time is short…that not all of the little details matter as much as I think they should…that there is no shame to be found in picking my battles…that there is a time enforce strictness and rigidity, and a time to enjoy life with my children. And I get it now.
As you enter this new phase of your life, I hope you enjoy the time you have to do the things you enjoy…and to enjoy your children and make memories with your grandchildren. You’ve worked hard all of your life, and you’ve earned the right to enjoy retirement. I have learned so much from you over the years…about being a father…a husband…an employee…a friend…a follower of Christ. I look forward to many more years with both you and mom by our side. I still have so much to learn…and there are just some things best taught by a dad. I get that now.