At first, I thought it was just about Ben.
It struck me one day as I contemplated him and our latest interaction that I’m not really sure I can be the Dad he needs me to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe I understand the significance of a father’s investment in his children, and in many ways, I feel like I do a decent job of investing well. At least, that is, I know there’s a need to invest, and I try. These are minimum requirements; low standards.
In other words, I think I’m a decent Dad.
That’s significant because this is not one of those “I’m a terrible father” posts which are mostly a solicitation for reassuring comments. I mean, I like reassuring comments as much as the next guy, but that’s not what I’m digging for here. Although, reassure all you want, if you feel the need.
Ben is unique. He draws from me. He is 11 years old, our fourth child, and our second boy.
I can feel his need for me pulling on me in various ways and means. When I’m doing anything around the house – cooking, repairing, watching, relaxing, anything but cleaning – he’s right there with me.
When I remodeled our upstairs bathroom, he and I were the only members of this large household still awake and scraping wallpaper after midnight. When I built shelves for Will, Ben was the one running the drill and running to get tools. When I made homemade donuts, Ben helped make the dough and frosted them. When he’s away from home, I take the day off.
It’s more than any of that, though.
Ben pulls on me – emotionally. He has a severely tender heart, and though he tries to be strong, he really can’t hide his feelings.
There is this look I catch in his eyes sometimes when he looks at me. It’s like he sees right through me. It’s like he knows me, and he knows my squirmy insides, yet he remains hopeful I’ll overachieve.
Sometimes, out of nowhere, I find him leaning against me; sitting in my lap as I talk around him to friends at Starbucks, or holding my hand as we walk through a store.
He’s gracious and forgiving, but when I really disappoint him – like the time he wanted to make candles with a mold, and I stupidly pulled the wick out of the first one while trying to extract it from the mold – he says “it’s okay,” as tears fill his eyes, and I love him for trying to be strong. (I got defensive and mad. The next day, he repaired the one wickless candle and made 6 others on his own that were perfect.)
Stuff like that happens more often than I want to admit. I’ll conclude some session of requests to build something or go somewhere or play some game with “I’m sorry, Son, I just can’t do it right now.” Or, I’ll respond with anger or a sharp tongue to something deserving a softer touch, and Ben will grin, with eyes full of water, and say “It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
Why do I have to have a son like this? I’m confident, especially in my melancholy and overwhelmed moments, that I cannot consistently be a father at the level he demands. Is it fair that I have to be reminded of my weaknesses like this?
As I contemplate such matters, it strikes me further that it’s not really about Ben – at least not only Ben. In fact, all of my children need me in the same ways – or at least to the same degrees, at the same levels.
But, most of them are just better at hiding their needs. They cope in my absence, and they let me off the hook. They don’t have the same issues with transparency that Ben has. They are better with lower expectations. They are more often gracious enough to not ask or expect, and they have skills at hiding their emotions that Ben has not mastered.
Ben is gracious, but I look in his eyes and easily recognize the grace I require from him. The other kids seem to be more subtle: I can consume their grace without knowing I do so.
This is dangerous for me. To consume grace without recognition is dangerous, especially with children.
God offers us the luxury of a grace that can abound beyond our ability to consume it. We can take advantage of that without recognition, and he, amazingly enough, just keeps on giving.
My children are gifted at absorbing my inadequacies with youthful hopefulness. They offer grace that overwhelms me at times. How can they be so nice?
If I continue to rely on that grace, though, especially without recognition, they will, as children of God, yet prone to their own human weaknesses, give up on me. They will let me off the hook, and let themselves off the hook, and leave me behind to have their needs met elsewhere. That is dangerous.
I rely on their grace, and the grace of my friends and acquaintances, in ways that are a shadow of my reliance upon God’s grace, and grace is amazing in how it affords our self-indulgence. I’m glad, though, that I have a Ben in my life. I’m glad God has given me at least one who, though he tries, can’t easily hide his need and expectations for me, nor his disappointment.
I’m grateful for Ben. I need him, too.
Oh God! I love that boy.