If you asked 18-year-old Brian how much 36-year-old Brian would have figured out at this point in his life, I’m sure the prior would have answered with a confident, “everything!” because teenagers are idiots. The truth is, the older we get the clearer it becomes that the only thing we have figured out is how much we HAVEN’T figured out. With each skill “mastered” comes the realization that there is someone far more adept…with each volume read, the realization that there are volumes still being written. And more often than our 18-year-old selves could’ve ever imagined, we find ourselves stuck.
I have nothing figured out so I get stuck all the time. Stuck on a project, stuck in a job, stuck in a relationship, stuck on a home repair, stuck in a battle of wills with a toddler. And each time, I rediscover the one thing that 18-year-old me and 36-year-old me actually DO have figured out is…when you’re stuck, call Dad.
My dad is like my 4-Wheel-Drive; he’s either there when I’ve gone just a little too far or he’s giving me the confidence to push farther than I thought I could go. But, as with everything in life, there are limits. I’ve learned that 4WD doesn’t work unless you use it. 4WD can’t actually steer the truck. And most importantly, that I can’t blame the 4WD if I keep getting stuck in the same damn hole.
I’m incredibly lucky to have a dad who is a phone call away. Sure most of the time he forgets to charge his phone…but eventually he calls me back from the house. Sometimes I call him knowing full well that I’m stuck. For example, “I can’t figure out how to make a through mortise with this table saw (this is impossible).” Or, “Lindsay is out of town and I have both kids, can you come up and help me out?” Usually, I discover that making that phone call a few hours (or sometimes days) earlier would have saved a lot of time, money, aggravation, and needless destruction of personal property. Other times, I don’t even realize I’m stuck until he helps me realize it with a simple, poignant question like, “you sure about that?” or, “are you happy?”
There’s a fine line between making sure your kids don’t get stuck and giving them the tools they need to get themselves out when they, inevitably, get stuck. Now that I have kids of my own, the urge to protect them from every bump, bruise, bully, and blockade they will encounter in life is infinitely stronger than I could’ve imagined. But saying, “don’t run on the pool deck,” never seems to have the same impact as a fresh raspberry on a 3-year-old knee. Just like saying, “Don’t live on a boat,” doesn’t have the same impact as sharing 200 floating square feet of a rapidly depreciating asset with a dog in the middle of winter for the 3rd year in a row.
My dad let all of his sons get stuck… knowing that his warnings were no match for our inherited stubbornness…but each of us found ourselves with the tools we needed to get out when we got there. I’m sure it was difficult each time for him to watch it happen, just as it’s difficult to watch any of my kids get frustrated or hurt, but there is simply no equal to the practical knowledge and character gained through overcoming adversity first hand.
Perhaps most importantly my dad never seems disheartened when I fail to take his advice. There are no grudges, no I told you so, no lectures. I’m not sure if this skill is the result of saint-like patience or the perpetual disappointment that comes with raising 4 boys. Either way, I think I’m starting to get there because the last four times Jake has hurled himself over the couch and hit his head on whatever happens to be behind the couch (usually the floor) I’ve only said, “See? That’s why we keep telling you not to jump on the couch,” three times…okay I’ve said it every time but the last time was under my breath and well after he’d stopped crying.
We don’t hear the word “grace” associated with dads very often but I think the ability to watch your kids mess up even though you’ve explicitly shown them how to avoid it and somehow not holding it against them is the epitome of grace.
No dad is perfect nor is any strategy on raising kids. This is a far from perfect world. We get hurt, we get disappointed, we get lost, and we get stuck. As dads we promise to keep our eyes open when our children close theirs. We feel our job is to protect our kids from all of the ugliness in the world…the bad people…the bad things…and most of the time we do, but the simple truth is we can’t shelter them from everything…and frankly I don’t think we should.
Ultimately, one of the most important lessons my dad taught me is that the best way to protect my kids is to give them the tools they need to cope when they’re disappointed, the confidence to walk away from the ugliness they cannot change, and to help them realize it’s okay to get stuck, because no matter how far, or deep they get, I’ll always be a phone call or a prayer away and we’ll find our way out together.