Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fathering Never Ends

My son Will is a young Second Lieutenant currently sweating through a hot summer in Ft. Benning, Georgia as he goes through Infantry officer’s training. He’ll move to his permanent post at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina in a few months where he’ll serve as a platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division. Soon after that he’ll probably be deployed.

In the meantime he’s at that awkward stage of life between student and working adult. He comes home every weekend he can so he can be fed, sleep late, have his clothes washed and receive financial assistance (I don’t quite get this). I honestly don’t mind one bit. Full adulthood will be on him soon enough.

There are several awkward stages in our kids’ lives. Starting school is one—aren’t all parents scared to death when they drop off their 5-year-olds the first day of kindergarten? It’s like that moment in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” when the little boy walks up into the darkened maw of the alien spacecraft. You wonder if you’ll ever see them again.

I remember in a particularly painful way the acne/braces/gawky years in middle school. Most adults still carry psychic scars from those years ourselves, and watching our kids move them is tough to do.

Another hard stage is the girlfriend/boyfriend era when our kids begin taking their first, tentative steps into the mysterious and complicated world of opposite sex relationships. “Mom, I think he likes me.” Or “Dad, can I borrow some money for a date tonight.” Or maybe more accurately: “Young lady, you tell that boy if he ever texts you again I’ll personally crush his i-phone with a sledge hammer. Then I’ll use it on him.”

But in the world we live in now, there’s a new stage in the lives of our children that many of us never saw coming. I’m talking about the period after college when our kids start looking for their first real job and move out on their own.

College degree in hand (or, for others, high school or community college), future full of hope, ready to start a career, build a life, get out on their own. Our adult kids want to move forward with their lives. What they’re finding, though, is an uphill battle. 50% of recent college graduates can’t find a job and many of them are moving back home. The world they’d prepared to work in, live in and contribute to simply doesn’t have a place for many of them.

What used to be an awkward and confusing time of life for young adults has morphed into a protracted season of self-doubt, filled with anxiety and mountains of student debt.

And in the middle of it all, we dads still have work to do. We still must be a source of strength for our kids. Still a voice of reason. Still the source of unconditional love. Still the one who administers the kick in our kids’ backsides sometimes necessary to get them moving.

Fathering never ends.

Back to my son, Will. While he struggles to find his way in the military world, he still needs a dad. So this week when he was facing a few particularly challenging situations, I stepped in, intervened, meddled—call it what you will—to do some fathering.

I wrote him an email, my normal approach with both my adult kids. They laugh at me for doing this (which secretly makes me very happy—adult kids who don’t laugh at their parents behind their backs simply aren’t paying attention), but it’s sort of a tradition. When the two of them complain about my frequent use of bullet points I remind them I’m a Baptist preacher—what do they expect?

This is some of what I said to Will. He said it helped. Maybe it did. My broader hope is that it may give some other dads ideas for figuring out how to best help their adult children make their way in this upside-down world.

You're living and working in an environment that I have no knowledge of. The pressures, expectations and culture in the Army are so much different from the life I've lived that I can't offer you the kind of input that I wish I could. On a larger scale, though, the process of discerning God's will is something that I've experienced some, in my own life and in the lives of others. So with all that said, here are a few principles for your consideration:

1. God knows what He wants you to do even when you don't.

2. The Holy Spirit isn't arbitrary in how He orchestrates events, relationships, opportunities and talents. There's a divine purpose behind it all.

3. The most important thing in life is to follow Jesus, wherever that takes you.

4. You've been on a trajectory for a lot of years in one direction. There's a reason for that even though it may not be evident.

5. You've been called to a hard, difficult profession. Not many are. But you've also received the best training in the world and can do what's before you.

6. Your military training may well be preparing you for something totally unexpected and the Lord is using what you're going through now as a way of preparing you for that. In fact, I sort of expect that to be the case.

7. Be intentional and diligent in finding people to connect with whom you can encourage and who in turn can encourage you. Most people use other people, either to help them achieve their own goals or to help them process their own anxiety. People who truly invest in other people though, for no reason other than to help them succeed, are much more rare. Be one of those people. Along those same lines, beware people who are energy vampires and who will suck you dry.

8. You're in for a long haul, whatever you end up doing. Make provisions to get through the next few years in good shape. By that I mean, along with the prudent financial habits you've put into place, make adequate provisions for your spiritual life. You've gone a long time on your own and I'm proud of you for that. But you can't make it forever as a loner. Find a faith tradition that you resonate with and invest in it. The dividends will last you a lifetime (and beyond)

9. Stay positive. You have a great future.

Love you,

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