By T. R. Robertson
When my boys were young we loved to read the comic strips in the newspaper. Our favorite was Calvin and Hobbes, featuring a boy named Calvin and his stuffed-tiger friend. Calvin’s imagination knew no bounds, and our imaginations were fired up by reading about his adventures. Sometimes he would turn a simple cardboard box into a time machine that could let him go back and try do-overs of the antics that had gone wrong.
As a father, there have been a few times I’ve wanted a box like that. Oh, the things I would do differently the next time around.
I’d Make Different Mistakes This Time
I’m a big baseball fan. I learned to love being at the ballpark because my dad took us boys to see semi-pro games when we were kids. They played at a small community park, and he let us have the run of the place. We played with other kids and occasionally actually watched the game on the field. It was great.
When my son Cody was 7, I started taking him with me to see the local college baseball team play. Like my dad, I let him have the run of the ballpark for the most part, finding friends and enjoying the atmosphere of being at the game.
One of my ballpark friends brought his son too. But he made Joe sit with him and pay attention to the game. He carefully explained the rules, pointed out what to watch for, and quizzed him on what he was learning.
I doubted that Joe would really learn to enjoy himself at the ballpark like Cody was. As it turned out though, neither of the two boys wanted to come to the games once they were older.
I learned later that Cody told his uncle he wished I would have gone outside with him more often to play catch, to pitch to him, to show him how to play. I hadn’t done that because I’ve never been very athletic myself. I was a bit of a sickly child whose dad almost never took me out to play catch. Cody, who suffered from allergies and asthma as a child, bore the generational brunt of it all.
It’s so easy to think how I could have done things differently, but it’s not that simple. As dads we do what we do in part because it’s how our fathers did it. On the other hand, we set our minds to most definitely not repeat our fathers’ mistakes, only to fall prey to some ingrained pull toward unwitting repetition.
Many of our mistakes are of greater importance than failing to pass along a love of baseball. Still, every father muddles along, making choices that turn out poorly. Meanwhile, the dad next door is doing precisely the opposite yet still manages to make a mess of it.
I’d Exasperate My Children in Different Ways
Paul told the fathers in Ephesus, “Do not exasperate your children” (Ephesians 6:4).
When Cody was a teenager, we had colossal arguments with plenty of yelling on both sides. As his teen years progressed, I found myself repeatedly caught in a cycle of generational defensiveness and hair-trigger reactions.
My temper eventually began to taper off as I learned to use a more productive approach toward conflict resolution. Faced with the failure of the methods I was using, I turned to prayer, asking God to show me how to put his biblical principles into action in real life. Through trial and error, I discovered ways to be more patient and constructive, to look toward my long-term goals rather than reacting to the crisis at hand.
If I had it to do over, I’d have learned that lesson earlier. I’d have spared my son the sarcasm and guilt baiting.
Impatience and a short temper were among the things I always swore I wouldn’t repeat from my father’s example. But I suppose Dad probably had to learn his patience through fire also, just like me.
I’ve seen other dads who exasperate their sons by being completely unengaged from the trials and tribulations of their children. They leave those hassles in the mother’s hands, or in the lap of the public schools and counselors.
I guess I could climb into my time machine and try to be one of those distant dads so I could avoid all the yelling and tears. Well, maybe not the tears. They’d have most likely still been cried. I just wouldn’t have been there to see them.
I’d Have More Control Over My Urge to Have Control Over Everything
We were eager to limit Cody’s exposure to the things in the world we thought he wasn’t ready for. We home schooled so we could control what he was being taught. We regulated his TV watching, the music he listened to, and the friends he had.
I’m confident that every Christian parent should exercise some control in those areas. I sometimes wonder, though, if we were too hesitant to ease back on that control at an appropriate rate as he grew older. Other times I think we eased back too quickly.
I’ve known other parents who seem more sheltering of their kids than we ever were, and I wonder whether they’ll wish they’d made a different choice.
On the other hand, I know lots of people who operate under the assumption that any part of the culture they consume is OK for their kids—even small kids. A coworker told me of one young father who continued to get together for drinks with his buddies at their favorite bar. Eventually someone in the group told him he should leave the baby at home. Even his bar buddies knew it wasn’t appropriate to set the baby’s car seat on the floor next to his bar stool.
So maybe it’s not a bad idea to exercise control over the things your kids see and experience. Are we really just kidding ourselves by thinking we’re in control though?
We were foster parents for several years, bringing five different foster sons into our home for varying lengths of time. While they were with us, they called us Mom and Dad (and some still do), and we loved them like they were our own.
Dealing with the twists and turns of the state family services system left us constantly grasping for an ever-elusive handle on what was going on in their lives. Eventually there came a day when they left our home, went back to live in troubled families, and were forever out of our control.
Foster parenting taught us to pray hard and trust God to be in control of the uncontrollable. That’s a healthy approach, not just for those children caught up in the shifting winds of “the system,” but for every child.
I’d Try Hard, Fail Frequently, and Hand the Rest Over to God
I suppose I don’t really need Calvin’s cardboard time machine. I’d just make different mistakes if I went back to do it all over.
The best any Christian father can do is to be guided by the heart of God the Father. Make careful and prayerful decisions about how to raise your kids, faithfully follow those decisions through, and leave the rest in the Father’s strong hands. His grace will be made all the more powerful through our weakness as fallible fathers.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.