There are two parents: the one I imagine I am in my head and the one that too often diverges from that one. The one in my head is full of patience, wisdom, and humor. He resembles TV fathers of the 50's who wear sweaters and smoke pipes, like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons, or Robert Young on Father Knows Best.
No matter what the situation, it doesn't phase me and I know just what to say to fix the situation or to help my son do the right thing. My voice does not get raised and I can express my disappointment or disapproval with a firm tone that strikes remorse into my child. When I dispense punishment, usually a grounding, the child answers with a remorseful, "Yes Dad." They see the error of their ways and all is right with the world as I go back to smoking my pipe and reading the paper.
Alas, this is not the reality.
James 1:19 says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry."
Reading this verse, I had to ask myself: Am I like this?
Too often, I don't want to answer that question. I immediately defend myself with whatever disobedience my child has just committed, whatever infraction, or whatever breaking of the rules (whether at home or at school).
Would my family say that I was like James 1:19? Would I even want to ask them?
Cava had a bad day at school today. When I went to pick him up, I was met by two teachers. Not exactly how I wanted the second-half of my day to go. It's hard when you listen to teachers recount what had happened. It's not easy when your child is angry and they are more defensive than remorseful. It's hard when that child is lashing out at me in the car ride home. My buttons are getting some serious pushing.
I'm angry. I'm hurt. I'm embarrassed. I am feeling like I have failed somehow.
So how do I respond?
Or like this?
Once Cava said, "Papa, you and I are like Beast from Beauty and the Beast."
"Why is that, Cava?" I asked, thinking he is going to say it's because we love books just like Beast, who has that huge library.
Instead, Cava's answer cut me to the quick, "Because we can have bad tempers sometimes."
From the mouths of babes.
Today, I found myself headed toward "Beast" mode instead of "Atticus" mode. But I stopped myself and asked, "Which one is going to get me to where both of us need to be?"
Cava was already angry and ready to fight. His guard was up. If I didn't stop myself, things would only escalate and become worse. I needed his wall down.
"Cava," I said, "you are very angry right now, aren't you?"
He admitted he was.
"You are angry because you are afraid," I continued and his defenses went up with, "No, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are. You are angry with your teacher for telling me because you are afraid that if you get in trouble that I will love you less." He just looked at me. "You think that my love goes up and down depending on your behavior. You think that if you do something wrong or if you get in trouble that my love for you will go down or that if you have a good day then my love for you will go up. You see love like this," and I made motions with my hands moving up and down like elevators. "But that's not love. Not real love. No, my love is not an elevator love where what you do pushes the button up or down. I love you no matter whether your day is really good or if your day is super bad. I love you no matter what. It doesn't change."
I knew he didn't grasp this because how could he? He has certainly never been offered this kind of love - ever. So just over two years was not going to suddenly change eight years of instability and fear. He admitted that his first goal was to protect himself and guard himself from being hurt, that it was his natural instinct. Of course it is. I have to help him start the process of lowering his guard so that he can see we are here to help him heal and learn.
My anger could have gotten in the way of working towards that goal. And it wasn't easy. At all.
And it won't be.
Any time we come to behavioral problems, especially at school, it is going to be hard for me to not unleash all of my frustrations not only with his failures, but with my own. I'm not the dad I want to be. Why? Because I am not God. I am not perfect. I am full of mistakes and my own hang-ups. But I can't just say, "Oh well, that's just who I am," anymore than I can allow Cava to remain as he is. No, I need God's help and healing just as much as Cava does. Only our heavenly Father's love will truly transform either of us.
It's a process - for both of us.
And we are both going to screw-up and mess up and make mistakes. Cava isn't always the child I want him to be. Neither is Benjamin. But I'm not the Papa I want to be either. All of us, in our moments of utter exasperation, need desperately the love of God. As Cava's father, I have to be an example of that. How a child sees his earthly father often impacts how he sees his heavenly one. That's a huge responsibility. One that I will strive towards but often fail at. But failing does not mean stopping. It means that God still has a work to do in me just like he does in Cava.
So, today I feel tired and defeated and sad and wishing I had some magic wand that could change how Cava's day went. I want to pull up at his school and see his smiling, happy face as he gets into my car and greets me with how his day went and what he accomplished.
That wasn't today.
I pray that it will be tomorrow.
Yet no matter what tomorrow is like, I pray that God continues to do a good work in me that I might better reflect Him to my sons.