This week, we’re turning over the blog to the dads in celebration of Father’s Day. Follow along to see what they have to say about parenting, kids and marriage.
Having a middle school son is the closest you can get to knowing how an invisible friend feels.
My first experience with this was when I chaperoned a sixth grade field trip to the mall. I was in charge of a group, including my son and a few of his friends, and they were challenged with completing several tasks involving math. After the allotted time elapsed, we went up to the Mall Cinema to see The Lorax. When I got into the theater, I went up to the top row to give him some candy and his body language was clear.
I asked, “Do you want me to sit with you or do you want me to pretend I’m not here?” His response was quick and sheepish: “Pretend you’re not here.” Wounded, and a bit irritated, I made my way down to the only available seat in the pre-teen-filled room. I took my place on the third row next to a kid I did not know, watching a children’s movie, attempting to drown my sorrows in buttery popcorn.
The thing is, I knew it was going to be this way. Knew it needed to be this way. I’ve been working with teens for nearly twenty years. This is the natural progression of life and growth, I reminded myself. When children reach adolescence, they naturally gravitate away from their parents and toward their friends. It’s as normal as learning to walk or growing taller. This is the way it has to be. Of course it is.
Knowing Doesn’t Make it Easier
For some reason, it didn’t make it any easier. My brain was full of knowledge my heart was refusing to accept. Who took my little boy? Where was the smiling toddler who greeted me at the door when I came home from work? What happened to the eager boy who wanted nothing more than to wrestle or play catch or read stories with his Daddy?
In the theater, now just Dad, I sat there in the dark. And I grieved.
Last week, my son and I went on our first international mission trip together. I tried my best to keep my distance, to let him have his space. Because I knew that’s what he needed. It’s not what I would have chosen. What I wanted was to wrap him up in my arms and tell him how proud I was of him, to lay down with him at night and talk about our day, to hear his concerns and fears and impart wisdom and reassurance.
But I let him breathe and make mistakes (he lost not one, but two $38.50 bus passes) and connect with God on his terms, in his time. Sure, I sent texts to him every night telling him how much I loved him, how proud I was of him, how much it meant to me to be on this mission with him. And, of course, they mostly went unacknowledged.
When we returned home on Saturday, he said to me, “It was kind of cool to be on the same trip with you and not see you that much.” I guess he meant it as a compliment, but I suddenly found myself in need of a dark room and a bucket of popcorn. His words pierced me the same way they did in the theater over a year ago. He doesn’t need me like he used to, and the older he gets the less he will. That’s how it is supposed to be, how it has to be. And I’m so proud of him and the young man he is becoming. But I grieve.
And this is what it means to be a parent, to be forever suspended between what we know in our head and what we feel in our heart.
We live in the tension between the sweet and tender memories of our children’s complete dependence upon us and the necessary and beautiful distance created when they begin to grow and flourish. We choose gratitude for the times when we were everything to our children and grudgingly acknowledge that we cannot (and should not) always be.
It’s not for the faint of heart, this fathering thing. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the most rewarding. And it’s not even close.
Helps to know I have a Heavenly Father who gives me the perfect example of what a dad should be.
Helps to know I have an “invisible” friend who knows exactly how I feel.
Mark Paul lives in Atlanta, surrounded by beautiful, loving people like his wife, Lisa, and their children Jonah and Sonja. He’s been a youth pastor for nearly twenty years. Mark loves Jesus, people, stories, sports, ice cream, and laughter (and has a mild obsession with peanut butter cups).
He writes about parenting, Jesus, and any story that captures his imagination over at his blog, Mark D. Paul. He’s also working on his first book, a work of fiction titled, Memory.