“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
Someone once asked me a question that still makes me laugh. A friend of mine was looking for parenting advice regarding his son’s behaviors. He asked me, “When your dad wanted you to make good choices, what kind of options did he give you?” It still makes me smile. My dad was a no-option behavior specialist, and he was undefeated.
I am not saying options are negative; we use them sometimes. The thought makes me smile. I know dad loved us. But he meant every word that ever came out of his mouth, and usually, it could be summed up, “Do this, or I’ll put your stuff on the porch. You can pick it up later.” But, of course, he never had to do it. But I think we all thought that he would.
We grew up with both parents working, but mom was always home first, and she was outnumbered. She had to be exhausted seven days a week. We often faced the directive of going to our room and waiting until our dad came home. That time interval sucked, but what we imagined was always worse than the actual interaction.
One of my favorite stories involved my sister, Sally, as she was the most creative at ways to challenge authority. She had to wait in her room for something she did one particular time. Dad came home and got the behavior report. I think mom told him to spank the little hellion. He went in, and after talking to her, he spanked the pillow in her room and told her to act as if it hurt. Sometimes we got a spanking. However, he must have seen that it was not the right choice on that day. He did something he probably thought he would never do, but he adapted his style to fit his daughter’s needs that day.
Mary and I have been blessed with three humans who call us mom and dad. Every parent who has lost a child has dreaded the question, “How many kids do you have?” The answer to the question points out what I am thinking about tonight. I have disclosed only two names on rare occasions. There are times when you know answering that question will be followed with “How old are they?” or something like that. Telling a stranger about Jordyn can crush them. I talk to strangers a lot, but I feel bad even admitting that thought. It is sometimes more accessible, but my role as her dad does not necessarily include being easy. I have seen God use it, but sometimes I cringe.
On some occasions, I do not want to feel crushed either. It is natural for us to talk about Jordyn in the present tense. Even though my role as Jordyn’s father has changed, I am her dad. We all wish she were still here. There is joy in remembering her, but there is also pain. I would not wish that kid away for anything, but I have had to adapt my parenting to fit the kid. If I meet her where she is, I have to be willing to regularly spill my guts to total strangers.
Adapting is also required with the other two. Autism will adjust your plans daily. We have both seen people look at us like terrible parents. He is 17, but his personality does not have an age. We spent hours on a trampoline praying for two seconds of eye contact with him. But that is where he was. So we have to think of details the way he does or reduce his chances for successful interaction with what we think of as regular. Our house has a heartbeat tailored to the needs of one. Hearts beating in unison can be pretty beautiful.
The needs of a neurotypical teenager require the same thing. I feel like Aly does not get enough credit for what she has endured and accomplished. She purposefully wanted to have her direction, not that of Jordyn’s little sister. She will tell you that I was more strict than some of her friends described their fathers. I was okay with that. She said that word got around that I took one of her early “boyfriends” to the cemetery to talk. He needed to know some things. She would also tell you that I taught her how to mix a drink when she was too young to be legal. My dad would have put my stuff on the porch. I was not granting her permission as much as I was trying to forge a relationship. My goals as a father did not change, but I adapted to the kid.
Mary and I had to resist the temptation to hold on too tightly out of fear. Doing so would have hindered the spirit in both of them, which would have robbed the world of beauty. So instead, we had to understand that each kid needed to go in their direction. They do not want to feel crushed either.
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