Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

ZimmermanTrialThere has been no shortage of opinions offered around the U.S. and beyond following the “not guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I don’t think the world needs any more opinions on the matter of his guilt or innocence, including my own.  The only truly educated opinions that matter come from those who were present in that courtroom and who have all of the information that is available, even if it is incomplete information.  Cries of guilt or innocence from others are based on incomplete information and factors such as emotions, histories and biases that presuppose much but prove nothing.

Having had some time to ponder the verdict, to watch reactions, and to read at least a few thoughtful, meaningful responses, I offer my response here:

So what are you going to do about it?  

I don’t mean that flippantly because this is nothing to take lightly.  I literally mean what actions are you going to take in response to what just unfolded before the nation and the world in this trial?  What are you going to do different this week than you might have done if the verdict had gone another way?  Are you going to be different on the inside because of this and, if so, what will that look like on the outside to others?

As I think about responses to the verdict from those in different roles and from different perspectives, I wonder about the following:

As a parent and grandparent, what will I teach my children and grandchildren about justice, about prejudice, about self-defense, and about how to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?”  Will my heart ache when I imagine the pain of parents who lost a child so senselessly and needlessly, and will I work to help prevent others from experiencing that same fate?

As a white man, will I try to understand the reaction of minorities who see all too many verdicts go against them (although in this case both parties involved were minorities)?

As a citizen, will I take action to improve laws that I believe to be inadequate?  Will I do my part to place in office those who can help make positive change?  Will I give of my time, energy and resources to change a justice system that too often allows injustice?  Will I get involved in my neighborhood watch program and work to make it function legally and reasonably?

As a Christian, will I mourn with those who mourn?  Will I pray not just for those who like me and are like me, but for those with whom I share little in common – even my enemies?  Will I represent Christ well in my compassion for all involved and in my desire for reconciliation between individuals, between races, and between people and God?  Will I step up my efforts at what I believe in my heart this world needs more than anything else, as the following tweet from Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research reminded me Sunday morning?


What will I do different as a result of this verdict?  What will you do?  If all we plan is to spout our opinions and yell down those with whom we disagree, then we have missed the critical teachable moment in the midst of a tragedy.  We will miss the great opportunity to at least partly redeem a broken situation.  We will miss the call to mold the future for the better.

I know we all have our opinions of guilt or innocence.  I have mine.  But opinions aren’t what the world needs right now.  We need thoughtful, purposeful, reasoned action that makes a difference for this and future generations.

So What Are You Going to Do About It?


For some additional recommended reading related to the Zimmerman verdict, see:

My son, Brian, bow fishing at Lake Moultrie, SC

My son, Brian, bow fishing at Lake Moultrie, SC

My two sons have been out on their own for many years.  The oldest, Brian, lives in Folly Beach, South Carolina where he loves his life and work.  The youngest, Jason, lives in Louisville with his wife and two-year-old daughter.  He and I work for the same company.  I have many reasons to be thankful as a dad for each of my boys.  I am grateful for the life lessons they taught me as we experienced this father-son thing by trial and error over many years.  I hope there are some important lifelong lessons they have learned from me, either from my good example or from their resolve not to follow my bad example.

It isn’t possible to go back and redo one’s life as a parent, and I don’t sit around beating myself up for what I didn’t do well.  That would be pointless.  Every parent does some things well and other things poorly.  However, I can’t help but reflect on the whole experience from time to time and think of things I would change if I had the chance to do it all over again.  This post reflects on those changes.  Perhaps some of the following will resonate with new dads or dads-to-be in a way that encourages them to avoid my mistakes.  Of course, the principles apply to moms and moms-to-be as well.  Maybe there is still time for me to take my own advice in years to come as opportunities arise.

While there are things I think I did well, this post is about what I would do different, so here they are:

1. Commit to fewer things outside the home.  Kids need time with their parents, so parents need to realize that once they make the decision to bring children into this world, nurturing, raising, educating and shaping those children is now a significant priority for the next couple of decades (at least).

I’m one who likes to commit to a lot of tasks, pushing myself to accomplish much.  That is still evident in the post from earlier this year about my goals for 2013.  I’m already thinking about some significant goals for 2014.  As a result, time at home and time with my boys suffered from such commitments.  It is still really hard for me to just have down time to chill.  For example, I multitask if the TV is on by checking various websites or social media sites, jogging in place to make sure I reach 10,000 steps for the day, doing some mindless chores or plowing through emails that have piled up.  But to just sit and enjoy some show or movie?  Not likely.

The danger with such a bent toward multitasking and over-committing is that you can see your child as just one more demand on your schedule competing for limited time that is already spread too thin.  It doesn’t help that people are typically having children when they are young and also eager to climb the corporate ladder or establish themselves professionally.  Competition for attention is built in to the stage of life.  No wonder our hair turns gray.  We earn it.

There were too many times when I inwardly considered requests from my sons to play or do something else as a hindrance in me getting other things done that were on my list.  My boys should never have a reason to think that they are an interruption or not as important as other things I’m doing.  They are potentially the most significant mark I will leave on this planet when I’m gone, so why would I not invest the most time possible in them?  They deserve it because of who they are and because I love them.

Daughter-in-law Lauren, granddaughter Abby, and Jason

2. Be slow to anger.  Parenting is tough and it can be very tiring.  Heck, life can be tiring with or without kids.  It is easier to react emotionally and inappropriately when you’re tired or frustrated, and I know I did that too often raising my boys (reminder: once is too often for this behavior).  I remember times when there was fear in their eyes and body language because I lost control, yelling at them or spanking too harshly.  What made me angriest was disobedience.  I believe it’s OK to spank, but not out of anger and not excessively.

If I had little ones around again, I’d work harder to remain in control of my emotions.  I’d know to keep my mouth shut at the height of a potentially explosive moment, excusing myself while I found a way to calm down before speaking or acting in a way I would later regret.  I would never want to be the reason for fear in the eyes of my kids.  As their dad, I need to be a safe haven, a protector, a solid rock they turn to for security, not some out-of-control maniac frightening them with his anger.  They deserve better than that.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression and make anyone think such behavior was a daily or frequent occurrence in our home.  It wasn’t.  But the few times I can recall it happening were still wrong and I wish I had been slower to anger, even when they disobeyed.  Children don’t know what we know or have the same priorities and perspectives we have, nor should we expect them to.  They’re kids.  We need to remember that.

3. Love their mother more.  It’s important for children to see their parents love one another, support each other, be kind to each other, be friends with each other, maturely resolve conflicts, and model the kind of relationship you hope the children one day grow up to have with their spouses.  While I love my wife of nearly 34 years, she and I are extremely different in many significant ways.  That opens the door to us doing our own things separately with much of our time, sometimes making fun of those differences or even being irritated by them.

What did our children think about and what did they learn from the relationship Linda and I modeled in the home?  It is sobering to realize that the example we set is what our children are going to grow up thinking is normal.  What we say about such relationships doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as the example we set in the home day after day.  Was that example consistent with what we said?  Was I the spouse I should have modeled for my boys?  Sometimes I got it right, but I know many times I did not.

Brian, Jason and me sporting our Kentucky and Ale-8 gear

Brian, Jason and me sporting our Kentucky and Ale-8 gear

4. Be more of a spiritual leader.  There is a big difference between being active in one’s church or religious community and being a spiritual leader in the home.  As one who was in a ministerial role during some of my sons’ formative years, I know I lived out my faith in a number of ways, but did I do a good job in the home?  Did I talk about matters of faith in everyday circumstances when teachable moments arose?  Did I pray with and for my boys enough?  Did I lead my family in devotions and clearly explain the gospel to them in word and in deed (and, yes, explaining the gospel takes words, not just a good example)?

As a Christian who understands far more about matters of faith today than when my boys were young, I’d sure like a do-over in this area because I think I did a poor job.  Like many parents, I put too much emphasis on what the boys should be learning and doing in church as opposed to what I should be teaching them in the home.  I have since captured in black and white what I believe to be the heart of my faith and shared it with them in personal hand-written letters, but that isn’t the same when they are adults as what you might do over many formative years when they are under the same roof.

Ultimately, each person makes his/her own decisions in matters of faith.  What parents do or do not do is no guarantee of what their children will grow up to believe or how they will behave.  Still, the proverb to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) rings true as good advice today for parents who care about influencing their children’s spiritual life.  To abdicate that responsibility for any reason, especially the currently popular notion of not wanting to influence the child in religious/spiritual matters, is not an option for one who cares about parenting in a manner consistent with biblical principles.  I didn’t abdicate the responsibility, but I didn’t fulfill it as well as I could have, either.


When I ponder how I might sum up in one statement what I would do different as a dad if I had the chance to do it over, I think I’d summarize by saying this…

I’d take them fishing more often.

Wait!  Hear me out… My boys loved to fish just as I did as a boy.  They were fascinated by it and loved it when their Grandpa would take them on occasion.  When I look at the items listed above, this one act captures the essence of what I would do different in a practical way:

  • More fishing together would mean fewer non-family-time commitments outside the home.
  • It’s hard to get angry with your boys when you’re sitting on the side of a pond enjoying nature and experiencing the excitement of that nibble or catch.
  • Sometimes the most loving thing a dad can do for a mom is to take the kids away for some father-son time and leave Mom to rest or catch her breath, joyful that her husband and children are out having fun and bonding.  I would invite her to go fishing, too, but I don’t think she’d be much interested.
  • When waiting for the fish to bite, you have to talk about something, and what better to talk about in such a setting than our awesome Creator and His magnificent world, how He loves us and what He expects from us?

A few decades ago, I confess that I might have considered spending time fishing as a bother and a waste of time when there was so much else to be done.  I regret that.  My boys needed that experience and time with me, and I needed it with them.  My sons and I did have fun and still do.  I think I have a very good relationship with both of them, but it could have been better earlier if I had done something as simple as taking them fishing more often.

If you’re the parent of young children or you expect to be in the future, be the best parent and spouse in the present that you can be.  Learn from the mistakes and experiences of others before your kids are grown and out of the house.  You don’t get a do-over raising your children.

A Time to Be Born

Posted: February 24, 2013 in Parenting
Tags: , ,
Tara and Kyle

Tara and Kyle

As I write this, my nephew, Kyle, is with his fiance, Tara, at a hospital about 60 miles from here welcoming to the world their first child, a little girl.  I eagerly await holding little Josie in the coming days.  This will be my first crack at being a great-uncle, so I want to get it right.

All new parents know that life is forever different once you take that huge leap from being a couple to being a family with children.  It isn’t easy, but somehow with love and patience and hard work, we make it through challenging times and move on to days of growth and maturity and, if we are fortunate, great joy.  As I’ve heard my cousin Debra say, from the time we have our children, our hearts are forever walking around outside our body.

It is easy and good to celebrate new life.  I don’t mind the sound of babies crying when I’m around because I am thankful for each little life and the promise each bundle holds.  If I’m in church, for example, and a very young child is noisy, so be it.  I’d rather have them present and reminding us of the spectrum of life and growth than shuffled off to another room where they don’t “bother” the adults.  Bother me all you want, kiddos.  I’m glad you’re here.

So I am thrilled at yet another new life in the family that is arriving just one day after seeing the other newest member of the family, the new son recently born to my cousin’s daughter.  New life abounds.

What is different about the birth in progress as I write this is that the event is bathed in my mind with thoughts of the baby’s paternal grandmother – my sister Stephania Jo, whom we called Jo-Jo.  We lost her to cancer in 1995 when she was 40.  She left behind her husband and two young boys, Eric and Kyle.  Eric has since left this earth by way of a tragic car accident years ago.  So as I think about Josie coming into the world, I cannot help but think about Jo-Jo.  Oh, how I wish she was present to take part in this celebration of life.  She would be so thrilled and she would be such a magnificent grandmother.  It would be a joy to share grandparenting stories with this sweet, dear sister whom I miss so much.

For a while this afternoon, the emotion was overwhelming.  I cried harder than I recall doing for many years – tears of joy and sadness.  I was thankful when the sadness turned into laughter as I talked on the phone with my cousin Debra.  The ending and beginning of life have ways of tugging at all of our heart strings to the max.  That’s OK, but it isn’t easy.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (3:2).

Today is a time to be born, so welcome to the world, baby Josie.  You have wonderful parents and a loving extended family who will care for you in every way possible.  You will be blessed by the many family members who will shower you with love all of your days.  I look forward to being a small part of that extended family for many years.

And someday, when the time is right, I look forward to telling you some stories about your incredible grandmother Jo-Jo.  I’m sure others will as well.  You would have loved her just as she would have loved you.

Handwritten LetterA little over two years ago, I decided to periodically write hand-written letters to my sons to capture some memories, personal father-son thoughts and other things important for me to say to them.  I wanted to take the time to write them out by hand and personally deliver or mail them because I wanted the personal touch throughout – nothing printed from a computer or sent in an email.

Each of the letters has had a different focus – from early memories of their birth and childhood to discussing some aspect of their current life to the year in review to detailing what I believe as a Christian.  While I had visions of writing them more frequently, I’ve only mustered four to each son over the past 24 months.

The idea first came to mind when I heard about a program called Letters from Dad that some men’s groups at churches follow.  I decided to do my own thing rather than follow some other program, however.

I intend to continue writing these for all the years I am able.  It is my hope that of all the physical things I might be able to pass on to them, that they will cherish these as much or more than anything else.

If you’re looking for something to pass on to your children or other loved ones, I suggest you consider an old-fashioned, handwritten letter.  Put your soul into what you write and let it serve as a meaningful legacy long after you’re gone.  For new parents especially, how awesome would it be if your children had a letter from you for each year of life you shared together?  Even if it’s way too late for that (as in the case with my children ages 32 and 29), you can start now and make the most of the writing time ahead.

Leap year lesson #363 is Write letters to your loved ones.

Continuing to reflect on the movie Courageous that I watched Saturday night, I’ll share one partial lesson.  I intend to write a longer blog post for my son’s blog in the weeks ahead on the subject of “What I Would Do Different” as a parent if I had the luxury of a second chance.  For now, I’ll share a glimpse of that stream of thought.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the movie Courageous and intend to, then skip the next paragraph.

In the movie, a father declines to dance with his young girl in a public park out of embarrassment that someone might see them.  Shortly afterward, the young girl is tragically killed in a car wreck.  The first words that came to my mind at that point speaking as the father were “I should’ve danced with her.”  Of course, it wasn’t long before the grieving father voiced that sentiment.

We don’t have the luxury of a redo in raising our kids.  All parents do some things very well and have others things they wish they had done better.  It’s pointless to beat ourselves up over the past.  Lessons like this one are more likely to be instructive to other young parents who still have time to make adjustments in their parenting.

When I think back to raising my boys, several wishes come to mind.  I wish I had played more with them.  I wish I had said “yes” more when there was no real harm in doing so.  Saying “no” was more of a convenience to me and, therefore, selfish.  I wish I understood more at the time about becoming and being Christian and that I had taught that better in word and in deed.  I wish I was slower to anger, even in their disobedience which angered me more than anything.  I wish I never punished in anger.

It won’t take long to come up with a longer list and the reasons for each item in the list, but that’s for a different post.  Do you want to know what the overriding regret is that I have?  It may seem silly, but it’s leap year lesson #301 – I should’ve taken them fishing more often.