Last Friday, I looked over at the TV and saw the trailer for Jurassic World, and it brought back an unexpected, bittersweet memory. It was 1993; the original Jurassic Park was showing in theaters; I was in ninth grade; and my parents had just split up.
Dad tried to connect with us in little ways after he moved out, but his efforts were mostly unsuccessful. I felt like I had to side with one parent when their marriage fell apart, and for a lot of reasons, I chose my mother.
Mom said she wanted me to respect my dad, but that meant little to me. I needed to demonize him in order to make sense of all the heartache in our family. If he was the ultimate bad guy, there was no reason to mourn the fact that Mom wasn’t with him anymore.
It didn’t help that Dad said he loved us, but then he had such a hard time showing it in practical ways like being at our showchoir concerts or going to church with us. So naturally, when Dad tried to reach out in some way, which wasn’t often, the deck was stacked against him.
A Humiliating Ride with Dad
One day, Dad called and asked if I wanted to do something with him, and I upped the ante. He didn’t have a lot of money, so going out to eat with him was a rarity. But I not only asked to go to Pizza Hut; I asked to go see the new movie Jurassic Park afterward. To my surprise, he said yes – and to my even greater surprise, he picked me up in his 18-wheeler cab. I was mortified.
The movie was amazing, but riding around in that massive cab felt like I was like cruising around in the biggest, ugliest station wagon ever. The only thing that would have made the situation worse would’ve been if he had a load on the back.
Dad wanted to talk, but I could hardly focus as I slumped down in my seat, hoping we didn’t pass anyone from school. And when he finally dropped me off, I mumbled a goodbye, shut the cab door, and got away from him as quickly as possible.
I didn’t see or hear from him again for three years.
I later learned that Dad moved to Arkansas to continue working as a truck driver. In the pre-cell phone days, truck driving made it difficult to stay in touch with loved ones, but not impossible. I didn’t care though – being in relationship with my dad was complicated and confusing. It was easier to pull away, to believe that I didn’t need him or want him in my life. But I did.
What if I Didn’t Want to See Him?
When I was 18, my dad borrowed a friend’s car and came down to see my brother and me on a frigid winter’s day. We only spent a day with him though – we said we were too busy to do more than that. But after a couple of hours with Dad, the ice started to melt. And before the day was over, we brought a VCR to Dad’s motel room and showed him a video of one of our showchoir concerts. He said he was proud. He had no idea how badly we needed to hear that.
Years later, after I had grown closer to my dad, I worked up the nerve to ask him why he disappeared during my teenage years.
“I figured you didn’t want to see me,” he said.
“You were right, Dad. I didn’t. But it didn’t matter. You were the parent. I was the child. Checking out wasn’t an option, regardless of how I felt.”
Dad didn’t try to argue with me.
Get Back in the 18-wheeler with Your Child
Perhaps you have a child who speaks to you with contempt, hardly looks at you when you talk, and rejects all your efforts to engage. Perhaps you feel like they hate you. Well, maybe they do hate you; maybe your relationship is impossibly dysfunctional and complicated. They still need you.
Now is not the time to listen to your insecurities and fears of rejection. You’re the parent; you’re the one who’s primarily responsible for showing the Father love of God. And now is the time to do your best impersonation of Jesus, stretch out your arms in love, absorb the pain, and pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
It doesn’t mean your child should get away with disrespect or that you should shy away from tough love. It means you keep doing your thankless job, knowing that even if your child doesn’t appreciate it, your Heavenly Father does.
“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4). “[D]o not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).