Of Fathers and Sons, and Daughters, too


Most extraordinary events begin in rather mundane fashion. Such was yesterday evening, as our three adult children sit with my wife and me around the table. We’ve just finished dinner and I go to explain a point about a book I’ve given to my son. My comments are apparently tainted. Things like judgment, correction, and self-righteousness …

My son’s response is quick and pointed—that he’s an adult; that he grew up in this house and knows what we believe so I don’t have to patronize him. Eloquently, he goes to the real issue: many times, I haven’t listened to him—what his views are, to understand his take on life, purpose, religion, morality, God, you name it.

Breathing is a bit difficult but I stay quiet this time. No attempt to correct him or to explain myself. I glance around the table. Our other son looks down, as if he either can’t believe what he’s hearing or wishes we/I would get it right. Our daughter’s face mirrors agreement and she interjects, “He’s right, Dad. It’s like … sometimes you don’t want to hear us—you’re too set on straightening us out but we’re adults and we can figure things out.”

My wife remains silent; I wonder what she’s thinking and wish I had her wisdom right that second (over the years, she’s urged me to “just listen to hear their words; it’s more important to hear where they’re coming from.”). I’m thinking, I’m surely not as bad as he says.

Finally, he winds down and I take the opportunity to say, “Yes, we had this conversation eighteen months ago, when we were together on family vacation. I heard you then. I’ve really been trying to be a listener. Isn’t there a difference?”

He allows that yes, there is. I relax but he’s not done. My transformation to being a respectful dad still needs more work.

And that’s what it’s about—respect. Showing enough respect for these young men and woman who grew up in this house to take in his or her comments without having to correct or evaluate. That allows them to be their own person—that I consider them grown-up and capable of thinking for themselves. That’s what we tried to build into them, for crying out loud. Everyone wants and needs respect, especially from those of their own household.

Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus includes this admonition: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Note there’s not one word to mothers how to relate to their children. I’m guessing Paul knew we dads were prone to ham-fisted assertions to our children—dogmatic, absolute, and presumptuous.

This all goes to something deeper—Why do we fathers tend to be like that?

Ever mindful of our God-ordained role of leader of the family, we become autocrats, authoritarian, so we don’t have to venture into the touchy-feely realm of emotions, of respect and feelings. It seems we’re so uneasy in our roles that we need automatic acceptance of our pronouncements, like Archie Bunker. Archie was funny because his words were outrageous, reflecting stereotypical insecure dads.

Back to my house: what follows around our table is a partial unclogging of misunderstanding from past unresolved conflicts. The discussion is sometimes passionate but respectful throughout. I can almost hear the tension hiss out of the room. It becomes the type of open, transparent sharing with our strong-willed offspring that most parents yearn for.

Later, I get hugs and I-love-you’s from all of them.

I almost blew it. But it happened because mostly I listened, giving them my full attention. My instinctual defensive posture relaxed enough for me to listen, and to hear.

Yep, I still got some areas for improvement. I don’t wear humility gracefully but I suspect it will prove to be a more comfortable fit than my starched self-righteousness.

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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
This entry was posted in Families, For Parents and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Of Fathers and Sons, and Daughters, too

  1. B. Reynolds says:

    Dear Sam, Glad to know you are human like the rest of us. I too have to remember to listen and not feel as adults that we can influence thinking that has to come around on its own. We feel so passionately about things and care about them, we want everyone to feel and know these things. Our children learn them in their way and time. Yet, they do love and respect us. God was so very smart when He designed families, but I wish the instruction book was easier to understand. Yet, David, Eli and many more big guns in the Bible really messed up big time. (Do you suppose that our parents felt the same way with us?) See you soon. Billie Reynolds

  2. Steve Kilpatrick says:

    Hey Sam, thanks for your openness. Parenting adult children is harder than young children, isn’t it? I think your willingness to listen and learn will produce similar responses in them. You’re a good dad Sam, because you care so much. Caring can be painful – though worth it! Blessings brother.

    • samuelehall says:

      Yeah, Steve! Thanks for your comments … I’m wondering, when our children become adults, do we really have much opportunity to parent them? Since ours live a distance away, parenting is intermittent and approached gingerly. Because after all, they are adults and should have life all figured out–just like we do!!

  3. Janet Halstead says:

    Sam,

    Well, I understand you are another year older and just a little bit wiser. Our children can be the source of great teaching to us who have given them what we knew to be “good guidance and Christian hearts”. To me, we have done our job to create independent people who can a learn from their experiences and truth. It really comes down to do we trust God with our children as independent adults and therefore, release them to His care I’m always moved by the prodigal son story, how dad longed for his son to return to him now matter his poor choices. The love of the father wanted so much to have the love of both of his sons. The good brother’s response is how most of us are–selfish, judgmental, conditional in love, having a sense of entitlement, and not able to forgive. Sam, over the many years of becoming, I’ve come to the humble place of admitting I am more like the second son than I ever realized. Praise God for His unfailing love and acceptance of each of His people, no matter where they are in learning and experience. Takes a real man to admit his failings.

    Happy Birthday and Seasons greetings

    Fellow traveler, John

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response and transparency, John. It really does come down to trusting God with our children; hard to do, since we’ve habitually guided them through their lives. But when they grow up, we gotta let go.
      Yes, thanks for the birthday greetings, too.

  4. Maxine says:

    I admire your honesty, Sam. Well said.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Maxine. Yeah, honesty. But gee, with the entire family looking at me, what other choice did I have? I didn’t include it in my posting, but Son #2 mitigated my culpability a bit.

  5. Sandra McDow says:

    behavior not limited to fathers, Sam. Moms do their share. Too bad babies don’t come with a manual.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Sandy! I remember how I felt right after our 1st was born–my goodness, how do I handle this tiny bundle of life? Then I remembered that a few billion other babies had been born to equally clueless moms and dads. A fair number survived with the usual amount of owner defects but I knew God was on our side.
      We did drop her on the floor that first week … actually, one of us was bathing her in the kitchen sink; laid her on the counter to dry while I (I think it was me) reached for a towel. She squirmed and dropped 34″ to the floor–Splat! I don’t think a training manual prevents those sorts of things.

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