When I was seven years old, my dad took my brother and me on a hike around our small town in south Mississippi. That hike would turn into one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
One Sunday morning when I was in my early 20s, my mom came up to me after church and said something that stuck with me: “I notice you always pray to Jesus. You should think about calling God ‘Father.’” I thanked her for her input but it agitated me a little. I was more comfortable keeping things on a first-name basis with the Lord and starting all of my prayers with “Dear Jesus.” I didn’t like the way it felt to address God as my male parental figure. I already had a father-son relationship and it was complicated.
I did not enjoy going to church last Sunday. I took my three kids to the service by myself because my wife wasn’t feeling well. The journey started out well enough — we were in the car and only running 12 minutes behind when we pulled out of the driveway. But it was all downhill from there.
I didn’t have many friends in middle school, but I had Jeffrey Mitchell, and I needed him. Some of the popular boys had started making fun of me, so I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin. Jeffrey didn’t seem to care. We spent time at each other’s houses, hung around each other during recess, and sat next to each other when we had the same classes. This included Mrs. Silkman’s seventh grade English class where unfortunately, our friendship came to an abrupt end one day.
My old friend Dawn emailed me with unbelievable news last week: She accidentally found Amanda. The last time either of us saw her was 17 years ago.
When I was in first grade, my brother Caleb and I lived in another state for a month — I don’t want to explain why. All I will say is that it was unexpected, confusing, and the result of serious complications in my parents’ relationship.
“Color with me, Daddy,” my oldest daughter said. “I prefer to draw a picture, but I don’t what to draw,” I said.
Three years ago, my family was on vacation and I was in a gas station standing next to my two-year-old daughter. Out of nowhere, a dirty old guy with a long, white beard turned around and looked at her. “You’re a pretty little girl,” he said, and then he reached down and tried to give her some change.
When I was in third grade, I had this dream I still remember. I was in a red-carpeted mansion with a wide staircase going up from the foyer. A beautiful woman was walking down the stairs in a white evening gown. She was my wife, and I loved her. Then I woke up.
When I was in third grade, I had problems behaving. My heart was in the right place, but my good intentions didn’t make it to the surface a lot of the time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to follow the rules.
A lot of folks like me hit their 20s or 30s and suddenly realize all the things their parents got wrong. The blame rolls in. Our insecurities, troubles with romance, inability to develop healthy friendships, whatever — all of it comes back to mom and pop. If only they hadn’t done this or that, we would be healthy and whole. When my parents divorced after years of trying to keep it together, I didn’t know what to do with their relationship. In the back of my mind, I knew there were bright moments, but I simplified things by seeing their relationship as one big mistake.
Last night, my daughters were in the living room where my newborn son was sleeping in a bouncy seat on the floor. I went to the bathroom after explicitly saying, “Please be quiet around your brother.” I should have just taken the baby to the bathroom with me.
Right now, I’m looking across the room at my son, a newborn baby boy curled against my wife’s chest. She’s nursing him, which takes a lot more effort than you would imagine. And speaking of effort, there are a host of other little tasks that somehow manage to take up nearly the whole day. We don’t mind it, but we’ve come a long way since our first two children were infants.
This morning, I was driving my six-year-old daughter to school, and she said, “Daddy, what are we going to talk about?” As morbid as it may seem, I decided to talk to her about what to do if she’s in a situation where someone is shooting a gun in her school. She wanted to know what kind of person would do that, and I told her that it’s the kind of person whose heart is full of Satan.
Last weekend was pretty intense at our house. One of my six-year-old’s front two teeth was ready to fall out, but she was terrified of the pain she might feel if it did.