I arrived at the DMV late on a Friday afternoon, hoping to get my driver’s license without suffering through a long wait. I never imagined the monumentally awful experience that was about to unfold.
There was a line when I walked in – of course, it wasn’t a line to actually get your driver’s license. It was a line to get a number that would put you in the queue to get your driver’s license.
After I got my number, I sat down in what looked like an airport terminal and waited as the automated voice called out number after number. Boredom led to scrolling through my phone for a while and I eventually needed to go to the bathroom. I should have known better.
When I came out of the bathroom, my number was on the electronic sign over one of the desks. I walked up, laid my application on the desk and said, “Hi, that’s my number.”
The woman barely looked up and flatly said, “You didn’t come when you were called. You have to get back in line.”
“Ma’am, my number is right up there, and I’m standing in front of you. I was just in the bathroom for about a minute.”
“You have to be here when your number is called,” she said, and then, horror of horrors, she pushed a button and the automated voice called the next person’s number.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “Does that mean I’m next in line?”
“No. You have to get back in line and get another number and wait to be called again.”
I was stunned by her callousness – no sympathy, no regard for me as a person, total indifference.
After driving away from the DMV carrying a license that bore a photo of my cold stare, something occurred to me: There are times as a dad that I’m not that different from the lady at the DMV. Like her, a great deal of my job involves enforcing rules and declining multiple requests for exceptions to them.
“Daddy, I want to stay up 30 more minutes.”
“Daddy, can I eat all of my Christmas candy?”
“Daddy, can we watch another movie?”
“Daddy, I want to sleep in bed with you and Mommy.”
Before I know it, I’m not only saying no, I’m saying it indifferently, and I’m saying it when it’s not even necessary. My daughter wants to wear her leotard around the house every day. My other daughter wants to take her pricey doll in the car. Both of them want me to make them pancakes for dinner. All of these requests I have brusquely denied for no good reason and with an explanation. I’d better be careful.
Scripture says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). In Colossians 3:21 it similarly says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Part of my job may be to tell them no, but if I develop a habit of doing so needlessly and reflexively, I could reap what I sow and one day end up with teenagers who needlessly and reflexively resist me in return.
I don’t want that. I want to teach my children that while they do not always get what they want, they will still be treated with kindness and dignity when I turn them down. In doing so, I’ll be less likely to provoke them to discouragement and hopefully, I’ll lay the groundwork for a relationship of mutual respect as we grow older together.