I didn’t want to have kids when I was younger. I figured I would foul it up. I wanted a wife and dog. Dogs are so much easier to train, they don’t leave near the mess, they are so much cheaper, they rarely (if ever) bite you after you feed them, and they never shout the words, “I hate you,” when you don’t do what they want. But Paula wanted children, and I wanted Paula. I would eventually come around and I am so glad I did.
Today is my oldest child’s birthday. Tabitha is 23 years old now, and with any luck, it’s still possible for my first grandchild to be born on this day too. Paula and I married right after completing our Sophomore year at Oklahoma Christian. Tabitha was born while we both still had a semester left of school. Neither of our children were unplanned. I had changed my mind by the time Paula and I were married. Maybe it was that song by the Oakridge Boys, maybe it was the Father’s Day sermon I heard that year from Avon Malone, maybe it was the fact that Paula really wanted children and I want to make her happy, maybe it was a desire to redeem my family name, or maybe it was all of the above. Either way, I was excited about being a father.
From the moment Tabitha arrived, life changed. It was no longer about me anymore. Like any parent, I wanted the best for my child. I was determined to bring her up right. I was determined to teach her and keep her from harm. Little did I realize at the time that I was the student, she would be the teacher and there was a whole lot of lessons to learn.
- Life doesn’t cooperate. There’s nothing wrong with plans and dreams, but rarely do things turn out like we envision. Tragedy happens and at times it feels like all is lost, but it’s not; it just feels that way. Through it all, life is like a beautiful painting with both bright and dreary colors. But when you step back to see the whole painting; it’s beautiful.
- You can’t control others. This was a hard lesson for me, but at least I learned it. There are all sorts of others still convinced you can bully and influence others into doing what they want. Sometimes you can, but not always. For all those parents of compliant children, you have missed out on this lesson. Over they years, I have been unfairly judged for things I couldn’t help any more than I could hold back the wind. In a way, I envy such parents. I don’t know what gene it is that causes unmerited rebellion but my grandfather had it, my father had it, I have it, and somehow it was passed down to my children as well. I was hoping marrying a compliant wife would help; it didn’t. There are dominant and recessive genes. The rebellion gene is definitely dominant. I can’t control others no matter how hard I try. The best that I can do is control myself and hopefully provide a good example.
- Love truly covers a multitude of sins. I did foul up raising children, many times. There were so many questions and so few answers. Paula and I couldn’t agree. Tempers flared, plans changed, jobs were lost, and children certainly do not cooperate. Yes, I made many mistakes. I never meant to hurt those I loved, but I did. But I never stopped loving them. There are so many things I wish I could take back and do over, but when some decisions are made there is just no turning back. I’ve been hurt, and I hurt others. That seems to be the way life works. However, love overshadows the pain, love covers the sins, and somehow loves puts all the imperfections together with the good and makes it turn out just fine.
- Unconditional love. Even what we consider love can be selfish. The love a parent has for a child is much different from the love a child has for a parent. A parent’s love for a child is not conditional. I may detest and be incredibly ashamed of my child’s behavior, but that does not change the love I have for my child. This type of love is protective and may come across as overbearing. I think there is a tendency for parents to force their own vision and aspirations on their children. This will not always fly. Our children may be of us, but they are not us. Sometimes the most loving act is letting them go knowing they will either sink or swim. Sometimes they must first sink in order to learn how to swim. Life is a brutal teacher, but a very effective teacher nonetheless.
- My children taught me about God. I have tried to teach my children many things about God, but I learned more about God from them than I ever learned from all my years of study. I think parenting is God’s way of helping us experience what He goes through. He love us unconditionally. Our sin does not stop his love, but it does cause him incredible pain. Not every parent will go through the pain of a child completely turning their back on the instruction a parent offers, but if you go through that, I think you may have some idea of how God feels. No it doesn’t always turn out alright. If your child insist upon rebellion, sometimes they never make it back. That is the fact. For love to exist choice must exist. And as long as there is choice we can expect consequences. Sometimes parenting is a matter of letting a child chose the wrong path while never giving up hope that they will return.
- You can’t always stop the pain. An image has been impressed on my mind ever since Tabitha was a little girl. She was only about 2 or 3 at the time, but she was really sick and we had to take her to the hospital for some test to be run. They needed to get an IV in her arm, and she wasn’t cooperating. Meanwhile, my little girl is screaming out as they poke her over and over again. She’s not just screaming, she is screaming for me. “Daddy Daddy, HELP ME!!!” “Daddy, where are you?” “Daddy, make them stop.” I have had a lot of pain in my life, but I consider that the worst pain. I was forced to stand in the next room while my little girl cried out for me, and I was completely helpless to do anything. Her pain was for her own good. I doubt she remembers that at all, but I will never forget it. That incident reminds me so much of how God must feel when we cry out in our pain wondering why he doesn’t act. It’s been about 20 years since that happened, and I have yet to be able to talk about it or write about it without tears. If Tabitha wasn’t so small and I was a more experienced parent, I don’t think it would have effected me as much. But at that point in life, it was a very painful event. The greatest pain is never physical pain. And sometimes you just can’t stop it.
I guess I better stop here. I feel I could write a book on this subject. I’m already over a thousand words and I’ve barely begun. Suffice it to say that my children have taught me a lot. I worry about them. I want to keep them from the pain in life. I want to prevent them from making the mistakes I have made. I want them to do what I wish I would have done. I want them to see the good in me and hopefully overlook my deficiencies.
Very soon my child will have a child of her own. She is still in school and I hope she will finish it, but her real education is just about to begin. Get ready, Tabitha, you may be on break from Harding, but there will be no breaks for a while. Your professor is on her way, and I’m sure your entering your most difficult course very soon. It will be difficult and wonderful at the same time. As your student, I am forever grateful for your instruction. I love you, Happy Birthday.