Thursday, June 23, 2011

Anticipation: Lessons From My Father's Playbook

When my daughter, Grace, was one year old, I recall someone asking me, “So, how do you like parenthood?”  I said, “To be honest, I don’t really feel like a parent.  All I really do is help my wife to keep this little creature alive.”  And as time passed, I found that a good deal of my parenting was mostly anticipating…Anticipating where my daughter, and now too with my son, is about to hit their head and place my hand between their skull and the floor, the counter, the chair, and so on.   I have to know their limits, how many chocolate kisses they can eat before an ensuing tummy ache.  And now that my daughter can ride a bike, I badger her with warnings about stopping before driveways and not racing out of my sight, and anything else I can predict as she rapidly pulls ahead of me down the sidewalk.  And I have to anticipate how to comfort them when I say, “No,” and it makes them cry.  I must admit, I never feel as though I remember everything. 
       Many parents say that there is no playbook for parenting, perhaps relying on only being guided by this instinct to protect and survive.  But if we really look for it, there is a “playbook.”  God has given us the plays to learn and model.  That’s what a good parent does: loves, cares, teaches, and models. 
       My own father was a good parent; I don’t feel I could have done better.  And now as a parent myself, I can better see how he was often modeling what God had given him, which was passed onto me. 
       Paul tells us in Corinthians, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with your testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."   Now over time that promise has become abbreviated to what my father used to tell me…often…which was, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, and,” he added,  “neither do I.”    
       An example of that is a story I like to tell from time to time: I remember that when I was a boy, I had the opportunity to go to a week-long sports camp one summer, at Towson State.  We lived in Harford County at the time.  Our family only had one car, and my parents shared it for work.  So in order for my being able to attend this camp, I would have to take the bus each day from Bel Air to Towson and then back.  After long discussions as to whether I could handle it or not, my father allowed that I could go.  Having grown up taking busses in the city, my father delighted, I think, in the knowing that I would learn this most useful of skills, using public transportation. 
       A couple of days before the camp begun, my father and I made a practice run on the bus.  Coming and going, I had to make a transfer at Bel Air Road and Northern Parkway.  As my dad was a big landmark guy, he pointed out three landmarks at the bus stop so I wouldn’t miss my transfer, especially when coming home.  First, there was a little carry-out that sold steamed crabs, so look for the sign with the crab on it.  Second, there was a drug store with a big blue bell for a sign…look for the big blue bell.  And when coming home, it would be easier because the bus dead-ends on Bel Air Road.  Look for the dead end.  Can’t miss.  I got it.
       On the first day of camp, I made it to the college without a snag.  However, coming home the bus was traveling up Northern Parkway.  Exhausted from the drills of the day, I could only remember one landmark, that crab sign.  At the crab sign, I got off the bus.  I looked up and noticed that there was no big blue bell.  And a moment later, I suddenly remembered perhaps the most important landmark, Northern Parkway dead-ends.  I was on Harford Road, coincidentally standing under another crab sign.  As my bus increased its speed, continuing up Northern Parkway, panic set in.  My transfer was the only bus heading home, and there were only a few minutes between transfers.  I started sprinting, the distance between Harford Road and Bel Air Road growing seemingly longer as I ran.
       Coming over the last precipice of the road, my stop in sight, I still must have had a quarter-mile or so to go.  And as my eyes focused down onto Bel Air Road, there was my transfer bus, too far to catch.  I had missed it.  With my hands on my knees, I bent over, sucking in hot air.  In the days before cell phones, there was no way to contact my dad, and I knew he’d be pretty mad when he got all the way home to have to drive all the way to pick up his idiot son. 
       I stood to watch my bus pull away.  As the bus maneuvered back into traffic, it revealed a figure pacing back and forth, under a big crab.  It was my dad, who had obviously anticipated what lay ahead.  In spite of rush hour traffic, in spite of the distance, and in spite of his actual deafness, I’m sure he could hear my relieved yell: “Daaaaad!”
       When I reached him, panting and cheering, celebrating his dad-ness, he only asked, “Do you know where your mistake was?”  After I answered yes, he said, “Good, because I won’t be waiting here tomorrow.”
       I must admit that I didn’t believe him.  And for good reason.  Since my father’s passing, my sister and I sometimes compare notes and find that so many times when we were exercising our independence for the first time, our father was with us, but in the shadows, at the movies, at the mall, in the skating rink, and so on, watching from the wings…but not waiting to judge, just there to catch us if we fell.
       In Deuteronomy, it is written that “It is the Lord who goes before [us]. He will be with [us]; He will not fail [us] [n]or forsake [us].”
       One of the ways the Lord has gone before me is the example my father has set.  And one of the ways God is with me is the lessons I learned from my father, visions and words that appear in my head when I am in dire need of parenting advice, which I now try to use to model and guide my  children.
       And you know what?  It’s hard!  I mean, it is really hard!   Which I know is no great revelation to any parent.  But, I am comforted.  I am comforted that there is a playbook.  I am comforted that someone has gone before me, and is with me still.  In the shadows.  Watching from the wings.  Anticipating.

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