Tonight I attended Open House at Bethany’s high school. I always enjoy these things, and it’s good to meet the teachers. Bethany goes to a great high school, and nearly every teacher she has is obviously in love with teaching and devoted to the kids.
As I walked the halls with the other parents, prodded along helpfully by student volunteers, it occurred to me that, for our society, people in my age bracket are basically done. Our culture worships youth: young, healthy, in shape, beautiful youth. Our celebrities are either young or they are surgically nipped and tucked (and injected and stretched and suctioned) to look young. Our athletes are young. Our artists and musicians are young. Even our President is young, as Presidents go (though he still has a few years on me). I, on the other hand, have crossed the line where I now work out to feel better, rather than to look better. Looking better became an impossibility quite awhile ago. But twenty minutes on an elliptical at level five makes me feel slightly more alive, provided it doesn’t kill me.
So there we were, we middle agers, moving like the lumpen masses we are through the halls of this enormous, modern high school, squinting at the impossibly small print on the school map as we huffed our way to third period.
And the thought hit me: not done. I’m a parent. Jill and I have been parenting now for twenty years, and we’ve got, well, we don’t know how many years left. Technically, in theory, eight more until all the kids are out of the house, four years after that until the last one’s done with college, and, presumably, there will be some weddings sprinkled in there as well, and a grandchild or two or a dozen. But, as the movie Parenthood so wisely put it, you’re never really done. You never cross the goal line and spike the ball. Parenthood is like your Aunt Edna’s [backside]: it goes on forever and it’s twice as frightening.
This is the task. This is the great Odyssey Jill and I are on, and we drive an Odyssey to prove it. We’re in the thick of things, and time will tell how well we did. Time will display our diligence, and it will expose our sloth and passivity, wreathed in regret, should we fail as parents. We’ve either trained up our children in the way they should go, and prepared them for life, or we haven’t. Lord have mercy.
On a side note, I believe firmly that a real man rejects passivity (that’s from Robert Lewis’ Raising a Modern Day Knight – a good study). But I’ve found that passivity is a puzzle. I have large regrets over times I was passive in my children’s lives when I should have been active – I should have seen the storms coming and done . . . something. But I also know that I have a tendency to go off half-cocked and three sheets to the wind as well. After all, being a parent is an exercise in the art of letting go. There comes a time when, as a parent, you’re sidelined and you just get to watch the game, however it goes. The trick is knowing when. Go Team.
Here’s where I’m supposed to insert the obligatory “parenting is hard” statement, along with a lament about “how time flies” and “where did the years go”. Well, fie on that (I’ve been wanting to work “fie” into my conversation recently). Parenting is what it is. It is what God has made it, and parenting plays its role in Christ’s work of grace in salvaging lives and societies in our fallen world. By golly, there’s no sense in either bemoaning it when times are bad or getting complacent when times are good (as they are now, by the way). Because the times will change. This isn’t a job for cowards. It’s also not a job for those with too much bravado. We are dependent.
Parenting is the most important thing I’ve ever done, and probably will ever do. Compared to being a dad, my day job fades to insignificance (other than, of course, as a means to the end of feeding my family). And I’m not done yet. As the kids grow up and I (surprise!) get older, new enemies join the battle, namely the enemies of “boy, am I tired” and “ow, my back hurts”. But all the more reason to strap on the old armor and slog up the hill again. Battles do, after all, have their element of fun, and I have a goal to be old and crotchety, yet hale. We’ll see.
Did I mention that I went to Open House tonight?