Let’s be dads. Let’s be the sort of dads who can forgive, speak with gentle voices to our children, and have our children feel loved.
(Thanks to Fife Photography for this lovely image).
Today’s story comes from a dad who, by his own admission, almost screwed this one up. (The dad has chosen to remain anonymous to protect the identity of his kids). So, without further ado, welcome an anonymous father!
A dad who forgives
When my oldest was about 3, we upgraded him to a toddler bed. This was a terrifying experience for the both of us. With a crib, you can trap him in there! Keep him “asleep” until you’re ready to be awake.
But, alas, he’d learned to climb the thing and after three falls, we figured it was time. So we rounded up a toddler mattress.
That night, we sung to him, prayed with him, and left with a strict directive:
Stay. In. Your. Bed.
We were haunted with the idea that he might sneak out of his room in the middle of the night and come wake us.
Stay. In. Your. Bed.
“Do you understand?” we asked.
“Stay in your bed until we come get you. Okay?”
The following morning, we slept in. In a rare moment of awesomeness, we rolled out from under our covers at nearly 10AM. It was awesome. And what was even more awesome was that our son had also slept so long.
It seemed this toddler mattress thing was working out.
Careful not to wake him, we inched the door open.
And we found little Rikker lying in his toddler bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling.
He was doing what we told him to do–staying in his bed.
And, truth be told, it kinda broke my heart. I wanted to wrap him in a hug and say, “God bless you little boy, but if it’s 10AM you don’t have to stay in your bed!”
What a kid. What a kid.
Several years later (and only a few weeks ago), Rikker, now 8-years-old had picked on his little brother or something and lost the privileged of playing video games as a result (this’ll be important in a minute). The following day, I went to the YMCA to do some exercise. I dropped the kids off at the babysitting area and had a blissful hour and a half of listening to silence.
I returned to find Rikker sitting on the carpet, watching another kid play the Wii.
“Did you get a chance to play?” I asked.
Rikker shook his head. “I lost games, remember?”
Another “oh-dear-my-heart-is-breaking” moment. I meant to say, when I dropped him off, that because he was doing me a service and letting me go to the Y, of course he could play games. But I forgot. Instead, like the little three-year-old who stayed in his bed, he silently suffered because his inner moral compass told him to obey dad in letter and in spirit.
What a kid. What a kid.
A few days ago, the wife went out of town to visit a friend for a couple of days. I was left alone with the two boys. I decided I needed a break and arranged to have a babysitter while I attended a concert. I dropped the kids off at the sitters. Again, Rikker had lost games (our go-to punishment when he misbehaves). His little brother Ryan, perhaps with a touch of smugness, carried the iPad into the babysitter’s house while I nearly floated into the concert hall.
After a blissful hour of listening to some beautiful music, I was reluctant to listen to the other music that tends to fill my evenings (the whining!). As I went to pick up the kiddos, my second (Ryan) was in tears.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
“I didn’t get to play the iPad at all,” he said.
My blood began to boil like a teakettle–I knew what was coming.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because Rikker played the entire time.”
Rikker, who was not supposed to be playing had manipulated and bullied his brother into letting him.
I was livid inside, but cool on the outside. In a stern voice I pulled Rikker aside and scolded him for what he’d done.
A series of tantrum-like behaviors followed, along with more stern admonitions and near-bursting-at-the-seams directives.
I kept my cool. Barely.
As we drove home, my anger evaporated and I was left feeling betrayed. He knew better. He knew! This was the same kid that had stayed in his bed and not played games at the Y.
Where had his moral compass gone?
The entire car ride home, I fretted over what sort of child my son had become and had several “how dare he!” moments.
I think he noticed that today was different than the other days I’d become mad. I think he saw that he’d gone too far and that he’d pushed me beyond simple annoyance or anger. He tried to lighten the mood–talking about Harry Potter or something that he knew I liked. But I replied in clipped tones with all the enthusiasm of a corpse.
By the time I came home, my wife had returned from her trip. I needed some space and asked her if she could put the kids down. She could tell something was up and I told her what had happened. That night as we prepared to go to bed, she shared an insight she’d gained from her Bible study.
The moment they upset you, you need to forgive him.
Oy. I knew that was the problem. I’d taken his offense personally. As a result, I wasn’t ready to forgive.
But if I didn’t forgive him, how could I possibly teach him?
I went to bed ready to forgive and pleading for direction in how to make this a game-changer. I felt that this small failure in his moral compass could be the means of recalibrating it and making it more true than before the lapse.
The following morning was overcast. Thunder rumbled in the distance and rain dripped steadily on the pavement outside. I awoke before everyone else and sat, wrapped in a blanket on the living room couch. I cracked open my scriptures and read. I don’t remember what I read, but I remember the feeling that came–of calmness, contentment, assurance…
Footsteps padded on the carpet and Rikker jumped on the couch with me, snuggling in the crook of my arm. It seemed God was providing the needle and thread that would mend this relationship.
“Hey buddy,” I said. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”
Rikker rested his head on my chest.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
I’m sorry–not the sort of words the natural man would say. If he hadn’t stolen the iPad from his brother, if he had obeyed, we wouldn’t be in this mess!
True. But if I had forgiven him, this follow-up conversation wouldn’t be necessary.
I told him I was sorry for holding a grudge and for being so bothered. I told him why it had bothered me–that my little Rikker, who always had the strong moral compass, had failed me.
My voice was quiet and gentle, not laced with the edge of anger I had the day before. And as I spoke, my chest warmed and my body seemed to settle deeper into the couch. My heartbeat slowed…
We sat in a comfortable silence for several moments, having laid out his transgressions and mine as clearly as an exhaustive prosecutor.
“So what do you think?” I asked.
“Sorry,” Rikker said.
But I knew there was something deeper–some greater lesson that ought to be learned.
“What do you feel?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“It’s the Holy Ghost.”
I smiled, and, truth be told, got a little choked up about that one. My son was feeling God’s spirit and could recognize it.
Ten points for dad.
“So what can we do?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“We can pray that I’ll obey. Even when you’re not around.”
We knelt down before the couch. I asked him to pray first, then I followed with a prayer of my own. I thought of the thousands upon thousands of times in the future that a friend might pressure him to smoke this, or drink that, or look at that picture. The weight of all the temptations he’d have to face pressed upon me and the peace that I’d felt almost vanished.
But I pressed on. I prayed.
…please help Rikker to remember to obey, even when it’s not fun, not right, not popular. Even when nobody’s looking but You and himself.
I fought tears again. I won, but by a very small margin.
We ended our prayers with a hug just as Ryan woke up.
That night, Rikker called from his bedroom.
“Yeah bud?” I asked.
“We forgot to pray again.”
I smiled and again, we prayed that he’d choose light when nobody’s looking.
What kind of dad will you be?
A treasured moment for me. And one of many like it, I hope. It’s unfortunate that we live in a world that treasures power, that glorifies retaliation and vengeance, that indoctrinates us with the belief that losers and sissies say sorry.
Well I don’t mind being a loser. I don’t mind being a sissy if it means having moments like that–if that’s the price to pay for having a son who will choose to say no when everyone else says yes.
Let’s drop the pride, shall we? Let’s remember that the relationships we have are far more important than maintaining some false belief of superiority over somebody.
We’re all God’s children, after all.