Saturday, December 6, 2014

Failures & Fatherhood

When Benjamin was around the age of 4, he got really mad at me about something and, like some miniature Donald Trump, angrily told me, "You're fired!"

My response?

I threw up my hands and declared, "I wish I could quit! The pay is lousy and the employee often has no respect for me."

Both of us spoke out of frustration. But I wish I had taken the higher road. It definitely wasn't what Atticus Finch would've said. Although he is a fictional character, he is one of the gold standards by which I measure myself by and try more to emulate as a father. I strive to be that patient, that understanding, and to have the strength of character that he has and tries to instill in his children.

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend of mine when he, out of the blue, asked me, "Do you ever feel like a bad parent?"

Without even having to think about it, I blurted out, "Constantly!"

And I do.

A lot.

Many have this perception of me as laid back and easy going and I wish that were the truth. But I'm not. Not really. I tend to be stressed and tend to feel like I'm behind the eight ball most days between working, marriage, raising kids, taking care of things around our house, and whatever else shows up on my plate that day. One of my favorite quotes is by John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." And it is!

Back in the Fall, on a Sunday, I told Danelle that I was going to go hiking up Crowder's Mountain with just Benjamin because I felt like I needed some one on one time with him. Since he started high school and has become a teenager, I often feel as if we are often at odds with each other. He and I have always had a close bond and I don't want to lose that. As we hiked down the mountain, as hiking up it I was too out of breath to have a conversation with him, I laid out my heart to him about how I felt we were usually butting heads and I didn't want us to grow apart. To my surprise, Benjamin replied, "I don't feel like we are. You're a great Papa. I know that you love me and want the best for me." I was glad that he saw it that way.

Parenting is a very hard job. I often mess up. I second-guess myself. I can easily get it wrong. And all of this makes me feel like a parental failure. Sometimes I let things build up to such a point that, like a dormant volcano that suddenly becomes active, I erupt.

There are days when I am frustrated and frazzled and wondering, "How early is too early for wine?"

Sometimes I have to remind myself that we did want these children and that they are blessings from God. Some days I thank God for them and other days I just pray that a roving band of gypsies will pass by.

Parenting can be especially challenging when I'm dealing with a child who has all the hurts and hidden wounds that Cava does. He has ADHD and anxiety issues and PTSD. He requires far more patience than I have and I'm often asking God for more patience and grace (both for him and myself).

When I screw up with either of them, one of the hardest, but most important things I can do is go and apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness. The first time I did this with Cava, he was stunned. He had never had an adult tell him that they were sorry for their actions or their words.

It's funny, but I am constantly reminding Cava that he doesn't have to be perfect and that he's going to make mistakes, but that I still love him no matter what, but do I allow the same for myself?

I love being with my sons. I love spending time with them and cherish that time because I know one day, especially with Benjamin, they will be leaving our home.  I love them both for their differences and similarities. I try to spark both their imaginations and creativity. I promote their individuality. I try to really listen to them, though sometimes I fail the worst in that area, especially if I'm busy doing something else.

One thing I learned from my Mom was to celebrate the uniqueness of each child by spending time with just one of them, doing whatever they love to do the most. This may mean I have to just sit and listen to Benjamin explaining what a raspberry pi is and what it does. Or it may mean sitting down and working on a puzzle with Cava. But, by doing so, I let them know that they are special.

When I look at them, I see them as my sons and not as chores or duties.

One of my favorite TV shows is Gilmore Girls.  It's one of the most literate TV shows I've watched and I love all of the cultural references and the soundtrack, which is music I love. Benjamin's watched it with me on Netflix and he asked, "Why can't you be more like Lorelai?" She's the mom and her relationship with her daughter Rory is, oftentimes, more of a pal and best friend than as a parent. I replied, "Because I'm your parent, not your buddy."

Not that long ago, I saw a story about how Kelly Ripa's daughter doesn't like her because she is her parent and not her friend. I'm not sure why I was surprised, but I was to see that many people took her to task for this. We live in a culture that has too many adults wanting to be their child's friend and not their parent because being a parent is sooooo much harder. But what I see from my own kids is that they want boundaries and need me to set them. They need rules and discipline (not authoritarianism). As Ephesians 6:4 tells us, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett said, in an interview, that they don't correct or discipline their children because it's "too negative." What????

That is not parenting.  But too many think it is and that's why our culture is the way it is.

So I struggle with trying to find a balance.

I would like to be somewhere between Atticus Finch and Andy Griffith.

Finding this balance means that sometimes I have to choose: either my house is a mess or I am.

It may mean that whatever task I'm doing will have to wait while I deal with some issue or problem, or just take time to spend with whichever child needs my attention at that moment. It means that I will screw up quite a bit but that I just have to realize that no matter what I do, they will find something to blame me for in therapy when they've grown up.

The most important thing for me is to let them know that I love them and that most of my actions are born out of that love. Sometimes they are misguided, but I work hard to make them independent and, more importantly, godly men when they grow up. I have to be a role model to them and they will notice far more what I do than what I say. But I want them to know that, no matter what, I do love them and I thank God that He has blessed me with the opportunity and honor to be their father.

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