Notice that the proverb does not read that the godly walk with perfection.
As I look back over the past 23 years of being a parent, I am reminded of numerous mistakes that I have made. These mistakes include personal moral failures and regrets for little things I should have said or done differently both as a person and as a father. What has been clear to me is that my shortcomings are not hidden from my children. They are painfully aware of my weaknesses as well as my strengths.
Along the journey I’ve witnessed many parents who attempt to hide their weaknesses from their children. Taking on an attitude of perfection and high-minded omniscience, they act as if it would be disaster for their children to perceive a chink in the parental armor. They work tirelessly to offer the kids a spit-and-polished veneer of supremacy and will not admit failure or show weakness to their offspring. Mom and Dad are perfect. They are not to be questioned.
I have tried very hard not to fall into that trap. I would rather my children learn that integrity is not about the illusion of perfection but rather about embracing the truth of my imperfections. I don’t want my example to be the appearance of being a flawless parent, but the honesty of being a humble, authentic human being. I want to teach by example how to admit my mistakes, seek forgiveness, and strive towards continually improving both myself and my relationships them, with God and with others. To me, that will do more good in preparing them for life than some false impression I try to create that I do no wrong.
I come from a family of craftsmen. I’m very proud of this tradition. From my great-grandfather who started as a boy making wood dowels in South Holland and ended up running a hardware store in northwest Iowa, to my grandfather who taught shop class, my father who is a more than capable woodworker, and my brothers who make a living as craftsmen in artistic trades. I, however, didn’t fit into the mold. When it comes to home improvement and do-it-yourself projects, I confess my shortcomings. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that I’m admittedly not very good at it. I only have to look at the nugget of King Solomon’s wisdom quoted above to understand why.
When it comes to do-it-yourself projects I don’t have a natural knack for it and I get impatient. I start out with enthusiasm and a gung-ho spirit, but I quickly find myself frustrated and wishing I was doing something else. If I run into an obstacle I push forward in an effort to “git ‘er done” instead of stopping and investigating the best way to proceed. A major mistake and several trips to the hardware store later, I’m even more frustrated and it’s cost me more time and money than anticipated. My return on investment for doing it myself starts to wear perilously thin.
I’ve learned over the years to accept certain truths about myself with humility. There are areas of life in which I am talented and gifted. There are areas of life that I am more than capable. There are areas of life that I am not as capable, and some things in life I should avoid like the plague.
Wisdom is knowing when to do-it-yourself and when to pay a professional.
Work before pleasure. I had a quarterly Board Meeting for work on Friday, so Wendy accompanied me and ran errands in Des Moines while I got through the Board Meeting. We ran a few more errands in the afternoon and did a little shopping in the later afternoon before meeting our friends Joel and Suzy for dinner at Noah’s .
Wendy and I had a room at the Savery which had a quiet little bar in the lobby. Taylor got off work at Mercy Hospital at 9:00 p.m. and joined us for a night cap. The three of us enjoyed conversation over drinks until after the place shut down at midnight. We’re so proud of our girl, and it was nice just to sit and chat for a few hours. Taylor headed home and we headed to our room.
I was hoping to go to the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturday, but we were a week early. The Market doesn’t start until May 4. So, we took our time getting going on Saturday morning and headed to the East Village. We’ve been working on a plan for updating Vander Well Manor, so we stopped and worked on some particulars with the folks at Builders Kitchen. We then enjoyed a gorgeous spring morning walking around the East Village. We had our first experience at Zombie Burger (which we loved) and then headed to Hy-Vee Hall to watch Taylor graduate.
Grandpa Dean, Grandma Jeanne, Wendy and I left the ceremony after seeing Taylor get her diploma. We avoided the crowds and stopped at Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up before heading over to Eric and Cindy Boeyinks’ for Taylor’s reception. We had a great time chatting with the Boeyink clan and eating some tasty treats. Wendy and I headed home to watch the Cub’s beat Miami and to call it an early night.
Tonight we continue a celebratory weekend on this amazingly, beautiful spring afternoon. We’re headed to Matthew’s for a turkey barbecue along with the VL’s. Wendy made me my favorite peanut butter chocolate chunk cheesecake for my birthday which we’ll enjoy after dinner! 🙂
Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages is an interesting read and provides some great fodder for conversation and understanding. According to Chapman, there are five love languages:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
While I think we all respond positively to any act of love, Chapman contends that we all have a bent towards a particular love language. If I understand my spouse’s love language, then I can love her well in a way she will respond most favorably. If I try to relate to her in the love language that I speak most fluently, it may never have the desired effect because my primary love language isn’t her primary love language.
I have learned that Wendy’s primary love language is quality time. She wants to be with me, and she wants me to take the time to just “be” with her. When I am on the road for a week-long business trip it creates a relational drain. I try to make sure not to schedule too much right after I get home from a trip, but carve out time to spend just with her and fill up her love tank. If I want to really love Wendy actively, then I know I should drop what I’m doing and hang out with her in the kitchen, sit on the couch with her to watch a movie, or just sit with her at the table and read the newspaper over breakfast.
While I enjoy time with Wendy, one of my primary love languages is receiving gifts (which, I’m sure, is why the proverb above leapt off the page at me!). I love to give gifts and I love when people are thoughtful enough to give me a gift. Wendy has come to understand this, much to my relational pleasure. My birthday is next week and last week when I returned from a business trip there was a large stack of colorfully wrapped birthday gifts sitting in the living room next to the television. For two weeks I get to sit on the couch in the evening and see those gifts sitting there staring at me. They make me feel like a kid at Christmas and remind me that Wendy loves me. She’s speaking my love language.
And, love languages aren’t just a matter for spouses. Wendy and I talk a lot about love languages as we think of our family and friends. We try to discern their primary love language and remember it on occasions we want to express our love for them in tangible ways. If you’re interested, there’s an on-line test right on the homepage of Chapman’s site which allows you to determine the love language of you or your child. Give it a whirl and share in a comment what you found out! 🙂
Over the years I have learned: Just as important as choosing good companions for the journey, it is equally important to avoid sharing life’s sojourn with “crazymakers.” Like the troublemaker in the proverb above, crazy makers plant seeds of strife wherever they go. They waste our time and suck us in to the black hole of their neediness. They passive aggressively pit people against one another and stir up dissension. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron nails it with her description of crazymakers:
Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules. They show up two days early for your wedding and expect you to wait on them hand and foot. They rent a cabin bigger than the one agreed upon and expect you to foot the bill.
Crazymakers expect special treatment. They suffer a wide panopoly of mysterious ailments that require care and attention whenever you have a deadline looming.
Crazymakers discount your reality. No matter how important your deadline or how critical your work trajectory at the moment, crazymakers will violate your needs.
Crazymakers spend your time and money. If they borrow your car they return it late with an empty tank.
Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with. Because they thrive on energy (your energy), they set people against one another in order to maintain their own power position dead center.
Crazymakers are expert blamers. Nothing that goes wrong is ever their fault.
Crazymakers create dramas – but seldom where they belong. Whatever matters to you becomes trivialized into mere backdrop for the crazymaker’s personal plight.
Crazymakers hate schedules – except their own. If you claim a certain block of time as your own, your crazy maker will find a way to fight you for that time, to mysteriously need things (you) just when you need to be alone and focused on the task at hand.
Crazymakers hate order. Chaos serves their purposes. When you establish space that serves you for a project, they will abruptly invade that space with a project of their own.
Crazymakers deny that they are crazymakers. “I’m not what’s making you crazy,” they will say, “It’s just that … [add something else to blame].”
I have found that the path to increased levels of life, growth and understanding is often the one path that leads us directly away from a crazymaker.
The house is quiet this morning. Wendy is still asleep. I will likely be leaving the house before she wakes to have coffee with a friend. Across from my home office is Madison’s old room. The bright orange and deep purple walls have been muted by a more gentle color as it has been transformed from teenager’s cave into a guest room. Around the corner, Taylor’s bedroom of Tiffany blue is preparing for its own overdue coat of paint. Another single guest bed is there, but it has become largely a transitional storage room for things we’re not sure what to do with. Her tiny walk-in closet has become storage for seasonal clothes for which there is no room in our own small bedroom closet.
There will be no rumbling and rustling this morning. No muffled fights of two girls fighting over the bathroom, or clothes, or schedules. Mid-afternoon as I work in the office there will be no streak across the hallway as a teenager goes to her room to shut the door and get on their phone with friends. No mumbled “Hi dad.” No family dinner tonight.
The nest is empty. It has been for a few years now. Some days I still find it hard to get used to. Yet, it is good. It is the way of things. It’s all part of the journey.
Those who know both Taylor and Madison can attest to the fact that they are very different ladies who have struck out on very different paths. One still in Iowa. The other in Colorado. One is into art. The other has found an entrepreneurial spirit for business. One married early. The other is single. It has been fascinating to watch our girls strike out on their own respective paths, but they have both been a source of great joy. What emerged out of those teenager-cave bedrooms are sensible, capable and amazing women who are each seeking God’s path in their own way. They both stumble. They both struggle. They face their own unique obstacles. They both make mistakes.
The experience of becoming an empty-nester has revealed to me two unexpected truths:
I experience far more emotional stress and anxiety over my adult children then I ever did when they were teenagers living in my house. I realize now how much I appreciated feeling like the ever present dad who could fix anything for his little girl. I struggle now with feelings of being the impotent father who must look on from afar as they struggle with broken cars, broken hearts and life wounds that are not my place nor in my power to fix.
I experience far more joy than I ever thought possible as I watch them become the women God intends. The first truth is tempered by this one. I read the proverb above this morning and felt it in my soul. My heart whispered, “I know that joy.”
For parents of young children, let this old man share with you one more truth I’ve understood as I now look across the hallway from my office at an empty bedroom. The adults your children become hinge upon the time, love, and attention you invest when they are toddlers and young children. Do not wait. Do not believe that someday you will make up for lost time. Take them on dates. Take a personal day and lay on the couch with them when they are sick. Go to their games. Be patient when they want to avoid you like the plague and be present when they actually want to talk to you. Once they are gone, so is your opportunity.