All morning I've had a few lines from an old Phil Collins song in my head. He sings:
“Our sons and daughters seem to be beyond our control
The smile is fading fast. They're losing their soul.”
As the song played repeatedly in my mind, I had time to reflect on the words. I realized with thanksgiving that these words do not apply to my son and daughter. I'm blessed with two teenagers at present, a 13-year-old and a nearly-16-year-old. The journey over the past few years with the older one has been rough at times. The journey with the younger one is getting rougher. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have chosen to become a parent had I known how challenging it can be. Thankfully as I see my daughter begin to emerge from the roughest years it gives me strength and hope for my son as he now enters that same period.
Despite the hardships and the times when I want to pull my hair out or bang my head against a wall (and not only my teenagers can evoke those feelings in me!), when I stop to reflect more carefully, I realize that I have two great reasons to give thanks. My children express many typical teenage behaviours. They often inform my wife and I how embarrassing we are to them and request that we refrain from any embarrasing behaviour (which is just about anything we do!). At the same time they have also told us that parents shouldn't be boring. So we're stuck in a dilemma, since anything we do that might be interesting is also very likely potentially embarrassing to them. They can be moody, temperamental and sometimes downright exasperating. More than once I've sympathized with the advice of Mark Twain concerning teenagers.
However, when tempted to despair or lament my lot as a parent, when inclined to agree with Phil Collins, I must stop and remember the many good qualities of my children. Although they like to tell us how much we embarrass them, I think that my children still genuinely enjoy being with us. When I am away on business travel, they miss me and are glad to have me return—though they must express this with appropriate teenage reservation. During my last trip, while chatting with my daughter on Facebook, I even received one of the first direct expressions of love from her that I've had in years. Our family has the good fortune to share our meals together most evenings and we can enjoy some fun and bizarre conversations over our dinner. They are not running in crowds that are leading them into destructive or harmful behaviours. I don't wonder what my daughter is up to late at night and I have a reasonable amount of confidence that as she grows older and starts to spend more time with friends and less with us, that her own moral foundation will guide her to better decisions more often than not.
Both my son and daughter are very intelligent. My daughter is exploring and expanding her creativity through writing, drawing and painting. She is quite good and it is delightful to see her unfold her personality. My son has a more technical bent and with some focused learning could easily surpass my knowledge and understanding of computers, although at present his interest remains fixated on the world of computer gaming. Even here though I have opportunity to share in his life as we sometimes play together on the PS3 or our PCs. In most head-to-head competitions he wins, and sometimes this frustrates me, but I am learning to focus on the time spent together and allow my own competitive strike to take a back seat (or better yet, get out of the car completely.)
Sometimes I look at my children and I can see myself so clearly in them – and at times I wish this weren't so. I remember the famous words sung by Cat Stevens and echoed in the song quoted above by Phil Collins: “He'd grown up just like me, My boy was just like me.” I hope as my children grow into adulthood that they will be like me and that they will not regret that. I also hope that they will surpass me. I hope they will develop skills I never had or never fully developed. I hope that their moral character will be strong and resilient. Sometimes I worry that my failures as a parent will echo negatively throughout there lives, but then I try to remember that no parent is perfect. Despite that fact, human society has managed to continue on and has even progressed. God works with us in our real imperfection. I'm learning, ever so slowly, to accept myself as a flawed father and to celebrate my children for who they are, not lamenting that they are not who I might wish they were.
Yes, I have reason to give thanks.