From The Fairway To The Freeway

We knew it was a gamble that we’d make it to South Bend, but we didn’t plan on breaking down right in the middle of the toll booth.

My family and I were on a 4600-mile loop through the upper Midwest and into central Canada, and when you take a trip like that with seven children, a box trailer, and an 11-year-old van, you expect to have some unscheduled adventures. This time, it was a failing alternator on a cold and blustery Saturday four days into our trip. As bothersome as a toll plaza breakdown may be, what made it worse was that we had just replaced that alternator two days before, in a truck stop parking lot in North Carolina.  We were about to meet our third and fourth tow truck operators within a week.

Occasionally I have to remind myself of a simple rule from the golf course– You play the ball where it lies.  On the course, it means that even when the ball has gone where you wish it hadn’t, the game goes on. You can complain and make excuses and point fingers all day, but eventually you either continue the game or give it up.  It’s better if all your drives are straight, long, and true, but sooner or later you’ll have to recover from a sand trap or some other hazard. Figuring out how to recover is part of the game.

From the Fairway to the Freeway

I find I have to apply this rule to my daily life on a regular basis. Being an engineer by training, I tend to analyze things to death, and sometimes I can get distracted trying to find the explanation (or fix the blame) for a problem. Granted, if a problem keeps repeating in your family, you do need to get to the bottom of it. If the family car always seems to have an empty gas tank after a certain teen borrows it, that’s a cause-and-effect problem which needs a remedy!

But more often, the important thing for the moment is not who’s at fault or even what went wrong, but rather, how we get past the immediate problem and keep moving forward. Sitting on display in an Indiana toll booth, I had to make some decisions. Maybe we made a mistake when we installed the first alternator; maybe there was a manufacturing defect in the new part; maybe something else entirely was at fault. The important point there on the outskirts of South Bend, though, was getting the van and trailer out of the traffic lane, and then repairing the alternator. And that’s what we did.

Later, we might look over what happened and whether it was something that could have been prevented then, or possibly some way to avoid it in the future.  At the point of the crisis, though, it’s time to play the ball where it lies. We dads need to keep that in mind ourselves, and we need to demonstrate it to our sons.

I’m New Here: Exploring Seasons of Fatherhood

Hi.

I’m new here.

In many ways, I bear all the marks of father with young children- sleep deprivation, considerably more childish vernacular, and a primary-colored house.

Add to that a dazed, “what-am-I-doing-and-how-did-I-get-here” look, and you get the complete picture of a dad still learning the ropes and figuring out how this all works.

And if my guess is correct, you look the same way. Perhaps you’ve been at this a while longer than I have. Maybe your kids are grown and out of the house. Or maybe you have teenagers running rampant with all their hormones in tow. But I think, in one way, we’re all on the same playing field: our kids are continually growing; they never stay in the same phase for long; and as a result, we’re on a constant, steep learning curve.

So in that sense, we are always new dads. Constantly reprising our roles, our responsibilities, and our responses to our kids as they continue to change and develop.  What worked before is ineffectual now; what we understood about raising babies changed when the babies became toddlers, and then preschoolers, and on and on. We never arrive; when our kids enter a new stage of childhood, so we enter a new stage of fatherhood. Beginnings, over and over again, so that we are always new to this  act of parenting.

HelloFatherhoodSeason11513

I’m not sure about you, but that intimidates me on a few levels. First, I have to keep up with my kids; I have to keep learning and relearning my boys and their minds, so that I know how to connect with them and shepherd their hearts toward God. Second, I have to make each season count, because it only lasts for so long. Each stage gives a brief window of opportunity to impact our kids, where they are, in ways that we may not be able to do again.

How am I supposed to have the wisdom, the know-how, to lead my sons through each stage of life, when I can barely keep up with the rate at which they’re changing? How do I maintain the mental and spiritual alacrity to find the precious teachable moments, to be present in the opportunities for spending real quality time with my sons? How do I keep abreast of their ever-changing needs and ever-growing independence?

I may not be a parenting authority, but I do know this:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV)

I meet the challenges of parenthood in the community of men that God has put around me. I’ve never parented a toddler before now, but some of you have. You’ve never had to deal with middle-school angst before, but your neighbor’s seen it twice.

We are not alone in the journey of fatherhood. And in the Body of Christ, we have the resources of a spiritual fraternity- wisdom and experience garnered by others through years of trial and error, success and heartache, triumph and defeat.

Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Fatherhood is weighty. We bear a great deal on our shoulders for the provision and upbringing of our families. We need each other, men; we need each others’ input, advice, encouragement, and sometimes even rebuke. And we need to know that there is grace for when we fail, and new mercy from God for each new day.

Our success as fathers depends on our willingness to learn- from God, from our children, from our wives, from other fathers in the trenches beside us. And not only will we fortify ourselves and our parenting, but we will pass on an example for our sons to follow- an example that assures them that they need not go it alone; an example that demonstrates the richness and blessing available to us if we will humble ourselves enough to admit this:

I need help.

I cannot do this alone, by my strength alone, by my wisdom alone.

I lean on God, and I lean on my brothers in Christ to strengthen and encourage me to raise up sons who love and follow the Lord.

What about you? Do you have a mentor or support network of other dads standing with you in the parenting journey?