As a dad, I find myself fairly frequently asking the question: “Am I really reaching my kids? Am I having the impact on them I want, and, more to the point, need to have?”
Exhibit A: My stepson will soon be a college senior, my stepdaughter a college freshman, my oldest blood son, a high school senior.
Exhibit B: My youngest children are on the cusp of their teenage years.
Exhibit C: My wife is talking more and more about how hot the room is.
These are heady times for reflection and self-doubt. I mean, let’s be honest: In all likelihood, I have less life ahead of me than behind. My children are rapidly transitioning toward independence, i.e. making their own life without me. On the one hand, it is such a good and glorious season, and yet I cannot help but wonder, what else could I have done? How could I have better prepared them for the challenges of life? How could I have imparted a greater humility for the times when human praise will stroke their ego and they are flush with success? Likewise, how could I have instilled a more persevering, buoyant spirit for the inevitable valleys of shadow and defeat that every human must face? How could I have more richly ingrained the value of labor, however common, as long as it is honest? What transcendent moments—the boiling sunset sky moments, the honeybee in the garden moments, the little boy with skinned knee, the first roller coaster, the don’t talk to your mother that way moments—truly made their mark and could I have done more? That’s the real kicker: Could I have done more…been more attune…more available…wiser…more deliberate…more truthful…more firm…more daring…more focused…more insightful…more giving…easy-going…stricter…consistent…flexible…etc.
On and on, the chorus of doubt marches. For example, have I been firm enough with my sons to make men out of them, without sacrificing their heart in the process? Or, in the reverse error, have I made too many allowances, thus undercutting the discipline a boy needs to become a strong man, a man of virtue and determination in a crooked, apathetic world? For my daughter, have I drawn out and nourished the deep, sweet, tender beauty in her soul so that she lives in utter confidence, refusing the affection of any man who does not prize her as she has already been prized? Does she know, deep in her knower, that she is loved like that? Have I taught and demonstrated faith in such a way that my children know God for themselves, and are willing to risk everything to follow Him? Do they think about belief…or do they believe?
I think so. I hope so. Oh God, I hope so! But who can say?
I am a firm believer that there will come a day when the only regrets I will possess are the risks I failed to take, the time I failed to make, the words I refused to say. In other words, not so much what I did, but didn’t dare do. But here’s the deal. That’s unwinnable. Perhaps it’s a useful perspective for making my heart aware of each day’s opportunity so that I don’t grow dull or let valuable time with my family pass me by, yet no matter how focused, determined, prayerful and invested I am, I cannot do more than I can do. I can always do more, but I will never be God, and to over-reflect is to take on the burden and guilt of Godlike endeavors that far exceed human capacity. Plus, it spoils the moments I am able to make, if I am perhaps already scheming the next, or regretting the current.
I do not wish to live under the threat of the soon-coming absence of all that I have right here, right now, even as my family slips from my fingers. The absence is coming, it’s real, but there’s no need for me to enlarge it in my heart through fear and self-accusation, vain imaginations and pitiful hand-wringing. No, today, I must release them, that they might fly unbruised—that my fears would not defile the souls of the ones I fear for. I wish my judgment to be clear and my eye to be single. I am a dad, fear me! I have been given treasures times eight. I must guard them, train them, love them, correct them, give them time and add to their value in a way that nobody but me—dad—can do. I desire assurance that my time has been well spent and appropriately impacting, but that will take a lifetime to prove as they transition from the safety of my home to their own place in the world.
Did I do my part well? Honestly, no. I must laugh at such a thought. Never in a million years could I do such a thing! My good intentions far outstrip my time, wisdom, energy and true capacity. Why live in the guilt of what I could never do, simply because I wish I could? And so I must humble myself. I’m just dad, not God, and I’m afraid. Did I do my part well enough to make a difference? That’s the question. To answer it, I must commit the most daring act of faith yet: Believe. Believe that my children are hidden in God more than in me, and also He in them. In the real and deep love I know they have received, which nobody can take from me, because I gave it freely as best as I knew how. I must believe in the strength of the parents they’ve lost, and in the hope of the parents they have. I can do more, but I must not do less. And in between, I must be at peace.
All I am, and all I am not, in God’s grace, is enough. It has to be.