“I know you do, but I’m okay with that,” Ed replied, calmly.
“I mean it!” JJ added, “I really hate you!”
“Well, I love you,” my husband answered.
The Bumpy Road Between Boy & Man
JJ had arrived at the age when young men toggle between their boyhood of yesterday and manhood of tomorrow. Newfound testosterone controlled him and my husband was forced to remind JJ of his position.
There could only be one man of the house, and it wasn’t JJ.
After entering the living room to hear JJ mouthing off to me, Ed calmly stepped in front of us.
“What makes you think you can talk to my wife that way?” he asked his son.
JJ didn’t reply, other than to billow steam from his ears and nostrils (well, figuratively, anyway).
“I asked you a question,” Ed pushed. “You want to try talking to me like that?”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, JJ decided that it was time to establish his new position in the family.
“Sure,” he replied, with the toughest, “What are ya gonna do about it?” tone he could muster.
“Come on!” Ed said. “Make your move!”
The next thing I knew, the two were tussling … for a second.
In the blink of an eye, Ed had maneuvered my son out to the backyard.
I heard some yelling and then …
I rushed to the sliding glass door and saw Ed, stooping down to assist a sopping wet, utterly mortified boy from the frigid swimming pool.
“Leave me alone!” JJ demanded, after regaining his footing on solid ground. “I hope you know that my phone was in my pocket!”
“Oh well,” Ed replied, a slight chuckle penetrating his voice.
“I hate you!” JJ spewed.
Boy Discovers Cruel World! Mom Cries. Dad Perseveres.
Unknown to Justin, Ed too, had made a decision, which happened to fully comply with JJ’s idea.
Our son would have to find another place to live. If he wanted to be treated like a man, then he needed to get out into the unforgiving world and discover what being a man was really about.
JJ went to live with his other father, my ex-husband. The change offered a new set of challenges … but also some opportunities.
Even though I knew he had a roof over his head, my heart bled each time I walked past JJ’s bedroom. Despite his sour attitude, he was my baby, my youngest of six. And I was his mother.
I often sat on his bed and clutched his pillow, sobbing as I inhaled his scent. I missed him terribly.
Sometimes, I’d write a letter and tuck it beneath the pillow, just in case JJ ever came home to read it.
I wanted him to know how much we loved him, no matter what.
The Long and Winding Road to Self-Destruction (or to Manhood?)
At his other father’s house, JJ continued to self-destruct. With each passing day, I would shed more tears. Ed held me, assuring me that our son would survive this, that it was common for young men to experience such turmoil as they transitioned into manhood. He promised that it was a painful, but necessary rite-of-passage.
I couldn’t deny that JJ had been behaving like an a-hole for months but somehow, that didn’t mitigate my maternal urge to rescue him.
I just wanted to bring him home and keep him safe with me. But Ed had concluded that JJ wasn’t returning to our house. Not until some lessons were learned.
Daily, I prayed that God would soften Ed’s heart so our son could return to us. And just as frequently, Ed would remind me that JJ could not come home until he grew the “nuggets” (not the word Ed used) to participate in a man-to-man talk with the true man of the house.
Three months later, JJ slept in his bedroom again for the first time. He claimed to understand that, in our home, he was not the alpha male. He seemed thankful and humbled and, once again, all was right with the world (at least for this protective mother).
But it didn’t last long …
JJ lived on his own two more times between that first return and his high school graduation. Every year grew tougher between the true alpha male and the teenager.
Did I say every year? More like, every week, sometimes every day.
Watching the tension between JJ and Ed broke my heart. I begged God endlessly that JJ would make responsible choices and that Ed would ease up on the kid. But, my entreaties went unanswered.
When Winter Finally Turned to Spring
It’s no exaggeration to say that it was one of the happiest days of my life. Decades of worry and tears evaporated. I watched years of prayers finally get answered. The discomfort from watching our son’s painful transformation had completely lifted. The sun shone again and I’m certain that the birds were singing more loudly than usual.
In the weeks leading up to his graduation, I observed a new birthing in my child.
Before my eyes, JJ began to develop unwavering character, drive, and work ethic. I witnessed his life’s canvas turning from blocks of darkness to swirls of light and opportunity.
On graduation day, JJ proudly introduced us to his “meanest teacher”. This same man was now JJ’s “most appreciated” mentor. He’s the one who insisted that our son give his best, not just the minimum, before he was approved to graduate. This was the same teacher who telephoned JJ an hour before graduation and insisted that he participate in the commencement ceremony, which JJ had determined he didn’t need.
(“I just want to get done with high school and move on with my life,” he’d justified. “I don’t need to wear a cap and gown to do that.”)
When the ceremony concluded, several graduates approached my husband and me to tell us how much our son had helped them through their darkest days in high school. They even thanked us for raising such a wonderful person!
“He’s the reason I never gave up,” one young lady said.
“He always kept believing in me,” we were told.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be here today,” proclaimed another graduate.
Through every word, I was reminded that my boy – the son who couldn’t control his temper at times, who procrastinated destructively, who often struggled to see the positive in situations … he was … well, amazing! Inspiring! Motivating!
While he was spinning in his own mental turmoil and destructive decisions, he was also strengthening those around him who were equally as lost, if not more.
A New Kind of Father-Son Talk
This one was different from the hundreds before.
There was no lecture.
Just hours of stories, praise, and laughter.
As the discussion wrapped up, my son asked a final question.
“I’ve been wanting to ask you this for a long time,” he said to my husband.
“Sure, what is it son?” Ed replied.
“Well,” JJ continued, “You were always a strict father. But we always knew you loved us. I want to be that kind of father for my kids.”
His words melted me.
“How do you know how to balance strictness with love?” JJ asked.
“They go hand-in-hand,” Ed answered. “I’m strict because of love.”
Ed explained that, as a parent, we only have a small window of time to shape our children into the adults they might become.
“As your father, I couldn’t be concerned with being liked,” Ed said. “Just like my own father, I was willing to be hated because everything you hated me for was, quite simply, done because I love you.”
“Be willing to be hated …” JJ repeated, letting the words marinate.
“It’s only for a while,” Ed explained.
We talked about how his teacher, the “mean one”, had done the same thing. He was willing to be hated, because he truly cared about our son.
Before JJ left that night, both men stood and wrapped their arms around each other, thanking one another for being who they are.
I could swear that I saw God behind them, embracing His sons in a divine, loving, parental grip.
“Group hug!” I wanted to sing, but I didn’t.
God Tells Fathers to be Strong Dads …
Are you willing to be rebuked by your kids? Do you believe they’ll thank you for it later? If your discipline is done out of love for them, don’t back down in an effort to make them “love you more.”
Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
I see that righteousness and peace in my son, thanks to the strict (loving) discipline of my husband.
Just like God sculpts us into holy vessels through our trials and tribulations, our earthly fathers shape their sons into the men that this world so desperately needs. Yes; the process is painful, but the payoff is plentiful!
Other examples that our Lord has provided to help earthly dad’s:
Job 5:17-18 (NIV) “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.”
1 Cor 11:32 (Phi) But when God does judge us, he disciplines us as his own sons, that we may not be involved in the general condemnation of the world.
Rev 3:19 (NIV) [Jesus] “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”
Gal 6:7 (Jer) Don’t delude yourself into thinking God can be cheated: where a man sows, there he reaps.
Happy Pre-Father’s Day Week, Dads!
Looking for a male (or female) role model in your child’s life? Check out these links:
http://www.bbbs.org/site (Big Brothers, Big Sisters)
http://www.volunteermatch.org/search (Volunteer Match)