A prayer for fatherhood, prayer for me

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.” — Ian Morgan Cron, “Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir . . . of Sorts”

As a boy, I never wanted to be a father.

I was too afraid of how I might mess up my children, of the things I may inadvertently say or do that would cause some sort of psychological scar I could never take away.

As a man, I couldn’t be happier to be a father, though I still fear the ways I’m messing up.

In fact, I’ve come to realize that’s most of what fatherhood is: Unbounded love mixed with all-encompassing fear.

My son just turned 16.

My heart swells with pride watching him learn to drive, watching him hone his skills on the soccer field, watching him dedicate himself to bodybuilding, which has become his main motivation the last couple of years.

I see and love the man he might become as he ponders getting his first summer job, as he owns up to his decision and tells us he wants to give up band class so he can take construction, instead, because he thinks he might pursue a career in construction.

I worry, of course, that he might crash and hurt himself while he drives, but I also worry he might injure himself in soccer or while lifting weights. I worry about him losing his childhood if he starts working too soon, that giving up band might be the wrong decision because he has so much musical talent. I wonder if construction is the right career for him.

Unbounded love, all-encompassing fear.

I know I’ve made mistakes as a father. I suppose we all make mistakes.

We sometimes say the wrong things at the wrong times, discipline when we should let it go, let it go when we should discipline, push when we should let them make their own decisions, let them make their own decisions when they need a push.

I carry scars from my parents. I’m sure we all do.

But I also carry many lovely shapes inside my psyche that my parents formed with their understanding, compassion, and wisdom.

The good outweighs the bad.

And maybe that’s the prayer of every parent, that the good we cause — the lovely shapes we form — outnumber the scars.

The thing is, we may never know what we really do to our kids.

They may never tell us. They may never tell themselves. They may never even be able to articulate it.

They may never know, themselves, because much of it happens so subtly.

Just our presence, the knowledge that we love them, shapes them in incremental ways. It forms synapses in the brain that foster communication throughout their nerves, sending signals to the body to release chemicals that bring them feelings of comfort and security. Those feelings, in turn, form confidence and resilience, which can dictate how our children interact with their others.

All of that miraculous, heavenly-designed chemistry happens automatically, with us unaware.

When parents say and do the wrong things, it can break that all down, snap those synapses, interrupt that communication, prevent the release of those chemicals, making it harder to develop confidence and resilience, making interactions with others more difficult.

Really messing up can release other neural chemicals that trip up their fight-or-flight system, causing it to malfunction, freezing them in piques of anxiety or aggression.

Unbounded love, all-encompassing fear.

I pray for my son every day. I ask God to watch over him, to keep him safe, to help him learn, to guide him, to envelop his heart with comfort and peace. I ask God to help my son make good decisions, to act with integrity, to learn from his mistakes.

I pray for myself every day, too. I ask God to help me make good fatherly decisions, to steer my son in the right directions. I ask God to help me say and do the right things that will make my son know he is loved but also direct him to live as righteously as 16-year-olds can live.

I pray to God that any scars I leave are few and shallow, that I leave more lovely shapes than scars.

I suppose the only way we know how well or poorly we’ve done as parents is to look at our children as they grow.

Darby and I must be doing something at least somewhat right, because we have a wonderful young man in our home.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.


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