No child's hope
Burns stronger than their desire to belong,
To be wrapped in the unspoken security
In the early days after learning I was going to be a father, I began to question how ready I was to raise a child. I'm guessing Katie was feeling some of the same things because she began reading a collection of parenting books that would put most public libraries to shame. I didn't read any of those books. I think Katie noticed. I remember one Sunday afternoon she asked me - quite out of the blue and right in the middle of that week's NASCAR race - if I knew anything at all about raising a child. I told her not really, but I was sure I would figure it out.
The truth is - I wasn't sure if I would ever figure it out.
How do you figure parenting out anyways? I mean to deliver a baby you have to go to school for a zillion years, but with nothing more than a few library books – or none - you can be trusted to take it from there and raise it to be something that doesn’t end up with a prisoner identification number or swinging wildly naked on a wrecking ball in a music video for half the world to watch on the internet.
The reality is the closest thing we get to real-life parenting experience is watching the parents who raised us. Given we spend most of our childhood engaged in a battle to refute every piece of guidance they ever give us and to abolish every rule they put in place to contain us, it’s a wonder we adopt anything they did at all.
One of the greatest blessings I had in the way of preparation for fatherhood was the opportunity to work with teenage boys and girls who were struggling with one aspect or another of life. I would listen to them tell stories about their parents. I was always amazed that very few of the stories were complaints about what their parents did. Most weren’t complaints at all. What they did express was an overwhelming sense of sadness – and sometimes anger - for the parent or parents who weren’t involved in their lives. More than 70% of the kids we worked with didn’t have both of their birth parents in their lives.
I spent a lot of time reflecting over those years about what life would have looked like if I had ever had to spend one second wondering if my parents cared about me, supported me – or wanted me. I began to appreciate - and boy do I wish there was a stronger word than appreciate - just how much easier it is to feel you belong in this world, to be inspired to carve out your own piece of it, when from the earliest days of childhood you don’t have to question whether your parents want you, or sometimes worse, if you might be the reason they don’t want each other.
Today, my parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. God has given me no greater gift. For 50 years my parents have made their commitment to their kids a direct extension of their commitment to one another. I’m sure there are many things my parents did as parents that I won’t do, and many that I will. And in the end who knows how those individual things will work out. But this I know. They helped me define the kind of parent I want to be: a permanent parent. It’s often said we shouldn’t take things for granted in life. But I admit I always took for granted that my parents would be there for their kids. That they were permanent fixtures in our lives. I hope Elliott and Ian take for granted the very same thing.