Oh Father, what have I done?

The scary occupation of parent must surely be one of the things that teaches us the most about ourselves, and this world we inhabit. It’s just as well parents don’t genuinely know what they’re in for before they embark on the journey. The world would be de-populated if they did.  The full reality of the sacrifice required to be an effective parent is a truly sobering thought.

Our beloved middle son has a mild anxiety disorder that manifests itself as a form of oppositional defiant disorder when it’s in full flow. He is known as our “charming challenge” because he is a delight to nearly everyone he meets, but he can be a monumental handful for those he is familiar with. Quite literally it feels as though familiarity breeds his contempt (and it also helps to remember he’s not yet ten years old and doesn’t seem to have a malicious bone in his body).

Something you can never be sure of is how he will wake up. Some mornings it’s a charming, vivacious child, keen to please. Others it’s a child of a different sort, one with intent to make every interaction a battle of wills, one who will let fly with a stream of vitriol and abuse. Thanks to our GPS navigator we now have a password to help him recognise when he’s woken up this way – “turn around when possible”. Increasingly he’s learning to make corrective U-turns.

Something I’ve committed to with my boys is to invest in them via the weekends offered by Fathering Adventures. We’re even partnering with Fathering Adventures to bring their concept to our campsites. So it is this weekend that middle son and I will be flying up to Townsville for a Father-Son weekend on Magnetic Island. An adventure that he has feigned casual indifference about in the home, but apparently doesn’t stop talking about with everyone else he meets in his day.

Out of bed popped the oppositional defiant child this morning. A variety of factors in play – excitement about the impending trip, a late night last night watching State of Origin and some battles with a new kid at school. The conversation goes something like this:

Middle Son (MS): I’m not going to school today.

Dad (D): Why not?

MS: I’m too tired.

D: That wasn’t part of the deal when you were allowed to watch State of Origin.

MS (Starting to lose it and voice rising several octaves): You can’t make me go to school. I just can’t do it. You’re a bad Dad.

D: Turn around when possible.

What follows is a 5 minute descent into a rolling diatribe of abuse and wheedling manipulation. And somewhere in this maelstrom he says:

MS: Why would I want to spend four days with you anyway?

And something in your head snaps.

D: Okay then, you don’t have to go if you’re not going to be grateful. The plane ticket is transferable, youngest son can go instead.

Not long after, and not directly associated with that last sentence, Middle Son managed a corrective U-turn and willingly went to school.

But somewhere in the next hour it occurred to me that one of the chief methods our kids grow in their understanding of God as their father is though the fractured, opaque portrayal of their earthly one. And what I had modeled was carnal, far removed from the unconditional grace and mercy offered to us by God.

Middle Son had been told that the priceless gift of his Father-Son weekend was not a free gift, offered by a Father devoted to his well-being. Rather it was held out, offered but then placed in jeopardy, to be snatched away if his behaviour (some of it beyond his control) didn’t measure up.

A precious thing of a Father, a son, and four priceless days of one-on-one time had been sullied, made into a pawn of manipulation.

This is not grace. This is not mercy.

This is works. This is the pathway to becoming an uptight moralist who will never measure up.

Thankfully the story doesn’t have to end there. Just as grace leads to restoration, the grace of my son will allow for this precious weekend to be restored to its rightful place. A weekend freely offered to a son because of who he is, dearly beloved of his father, a father who will pursue him and seek time with him regardless of his failings.

I could not wait to get home from work to tell him this.

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9 Responses to Oh Father, what have I done?

  1. steve turner says:

    Mate if you are brave enough to put this out there like you have, then your sons are in the good hands of a loving great-full dad.
    We only seem to get one shot at this parenting thing, and just when we get it about right, they go and change age and go through another stage that we have to get used to again- it sucks. And, parenting never stops, youngest of 5 is 18 now and we have grandkids running around and its starting again.
    Enjoy your weekend dad, and keep that story going that this is all about spending time with the kids- Fathering Adventures? Our kids are our tickets to a great time of adventure and fun.

    • mzilikazi says:

      Thanks mate. I guess you know me well enough by now to know I don’t think there’s much to be gained from putting up a veneer of perfection. Vulnerability can be helpful to others on the same road!

  2. Darren Lewis says:

    Well done Andrew! Well done for taking captive that thought that came your way. Well done for not making an agreement with it. Well done for sharing here what I think nearly every parent faces, but typically keeps to themselves, because they don’t want others to see that they’ve made a mistake, or potentially made a mistake. And above all else… well done for expressing your father’s heart… the heart of unconditional love. May you be blessed because of all of that Andrew. I’m proud of you!

  3. HG31 says:

    Oh my…did I father this wonderful, great father who loves…in spite of?! You must have learned a lot for my many, many short-comings as a father while you were growing up.

    I hope you have a “break-through” time this week-end and that Tim will look back on it as a life-changing experience for him.

    I am so proud and grateful for the way you handle this precious little boy who at times can be very difficult to deal with. I gratefully just look on and am thankful that you didn’t behave like that whist I was in your role.

  4. MUM SAYS says:

    Brilliantly describes our little “Charming Challenge…” We have shared a long journey. You can think outside the square Andrew, and perhaps only we know just how much you guys have tried, been disappointed, and then rejoiced in the “real” person inside. You WILLl win. Our prayers will cover you over the week-end, may He be victorious!!!! Bless you for your honesty. I know it will encourage others….and keep a copy of this for him when he has grown up!!!!!, .

  5. Duncan says:

    Well said Andrew wonderful insight into parenting. Totally agree about parents having no idea whats coming. Love the Fathering Adventures idea will certainly get into that. Look forward to hearing about the adventures with your boys.

  6. anne Grant says:

    I’m so proud of you….I know what this journey has cost you and I’m so grateful you’re not an absent father. May God make up for our mistakes and help us through the next ten years with joy!

  7. Pingback: What we did « Co-mission

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