One summer day, driving in his truck, windows down and summer air swirling freely between us, I remember feeling invincible. No worry too big or fear too dark. Life was summer sprawl, undisturbed still. Unawakened to circumstance affecting. We were just driving down a wide, smooth road, but we might as well have been precariously navigating across a narrow ridge thousands of feet in the air. Maybe it was the summer air that always seems to inspire adventure or his truck which always held the perfect balanced smell of work and dirt. I think most of all, it was the courage I felt when we did things together, just the two of us.
In many respects, my dad will always be an anchor in my life formidable to each and every wave threatening capsize.
He wasn’t the perfect dad. No dad ever really is. He was the disciplinarian who enforced consequences but wasn’t always the firm parent. In fact, sometimes he’d crumble faster than a dry sand castle. I don’t think he ever gave too much thought to parenting strategies or thought about parenting goals stretching further than the moment.
And that’s precisely where he won as a dad, in the moment. Perhaps more unknowingly than not.
Standing at third base, coaching and giving instruction as I walked to the batter’s box. At the starting line reviewing strategy again, reassuring me that the miles spent on my bike training had fully prepared me to win. Under the hood of his truck asking for the oil filter wrench then handing me back the tool I gave him and explaining what exactly the oil filter wrench looked like. Teaching me to fight and defend myself and stand up for what was right, at any cost. “Every fight can be won. Be the one who wins.”
Thinking back, I’m sure my dad faced many situations when he was uncertain as a father. He definitely made mistakes, chose wrongly and came up short, but in my young boyish eyes, my dad was myth and legend making sense of a world that felt infinitely bigger than me.
Parenting is such as tremendous undertaking. There are so many ways to get it wrong. So many mistakes lie in waiting.
...when and how to discipline. ...when to say yes and stick to no, despite pulling tears. ...embarrassing them. ...emotional parenting. ...saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. ...not saying anything. ...working too much. ...not noticing little important details to them. ...discounting their effort given.
The list grows infinite as opportunity for mistake lies in each day and moment.
Beyond mistakes marring the past and those potential ones threatening in years ahead, the surefire way to get parenting all wrong is to be absent.
Present in form, missing in action. There is no mistake greater than abandonment. And sometimes abandonment happens with the parent sitting in the stands still distracted by the day, not noticing the only one truly needing to be noticed.
I’ve known plenty of parents who say the wrong thing often, break the rules of what’s considered good parenting and semi-obliviously stumble in and out of situations, yet still they succeed in being a good parent. When dust kicked around in childhood and adolescent years settles and years are apparent, there stand their kids somehow ready to figure life out, prepared to take steps on their own.
The one fail safe parenting secret that always works: YOU
Dad, you can give no greater gift to your child than yourself. Mistakes and all.
Get over your idea of providing enough, success, happiness and proper parenting, and move into their little lives. Create residence in their hearts where they need strength and adventure and affirmation.
Don’t show up on time when it matters. Be there.
Being there in your kids’ lives doesn’t mean knowing. It means willing. And that is far greater a commodity in shaping their lives than knowing yet being unwilling.
In very rudimentary effort, I am moving closer into my daughters’ hearts this summer. We set a goal together to begin reading through C.S. Lewis’ series, “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Our family bet was that we’d make it through book three by summer’s end.
My dad left when I was 17. My sister, 13. One of my distinct, floor level goals as a dad has been to never leave.
And that’s more than an adequate start. It’s my greatest gift and a framework for effective fathering.
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