I love basketball and so do my sons. It’s our bonding session.
But since we can’t play outside, I got them an indoor board. I remember telling them one time: “Take care of this and your other toys. We worked hard for them, they cost money and you ought to be grateful but responsible.” They nod and zip away.
We’ve been doing this for a few months and it’s seen intense competition.
But one afternoon, something unfortunate happened.
My eldest son came to report that the backboard had been broken, like, almost shattered.
I was calm. Initially. I asked him gently to explain how it happened.
And he did. But he said something that irked me: “I don’t know what happened, it just happened.”
“IT JUST HAPPENED????!!!!” I reacted with a stern voice. He didn’t look remorseful or guilty so my anger escalated. I ended up giving him a barrage of words to magnify how irresponsible he was for doing such a thing. For not ‘taking care’ of that THING.
After my long lecture (which was more like a guilt-trip session), I walked away from the room to chill by fixing a cup of coffee. And for some reason, I heard God’s voice whisper to my heart: “It’s just a thing. You didn’t have to react. Be gracious and patient.”
I was so convicted.
So a few hours later, I apologized to him. I told him I should have just listened, not reacted. I should have been careful with my words because they can hurt for life. And besides, that breaking would give us an opportunity to fix it together, and draw us closer. So he apologized too and that was that. The following day, we sat down, fixed the board, and voila, it’s back to its original form. Thank God!
Reflecting on the happenings, I realized a few things. First, as a dad, I needed to listen before I react. Rather than being instantly reactive, I have to investigate what really transpired. Objectively, my son couldn’t break a fiberglass board unless he dropped it, but he didn’t. He was simply blocking a shot and it snapped. I should have just patiently listened, and seen what can be done to fix it, rather than scolding him, in front of his younger brother. A broken board can be fixed, but a child’s broken heart is harder to fix.
Second, I grew up with this mindset from my parents that everything we had needed to be cared for because it was spent for. They were teaching me stewardship. I wanted my boys to take care of things because yes, they do cost money and I did not want them to be entitled to get something new when something old breaks down. But how many of us parents use that as a justifiable excuse to replace the real issue? Sometimes, we value things more than we value their lives. This is an age that they will make every mistake possible and every breakable thing, broken. While I know we should not accept bad stewardship, it doesn’t substitute the fact that we have tendencies to put a higher premium on stuff more than their being. I should never make my children feel that things matter more than them.
Everything went well. Fatherhood lesson learned. We moved forward.
Then 3 days later, another unfortunate event happened.
I requested my son to pick up my laptop when he accidentally dropped it on the stairs. It felt like dominoes just falling apart. We all froze. It was like 5 seconds of stillness, speechless. My heart skipped a beat. And there was this huge temptation to erupt like a volcano. But for some reason, I couldn’t shout at him. I just picked it up, looked at the dents on the side, booted it, and thankfully, it worked. The screen wasn’t shattered.
My son didn’t know what to say except “Dad…..I’m so so so sorry….” his voice was breaking. He was afraid I’d lash at him, grab the rod, or cast him out of the house. He was shaking.
All I could do was look at him straight in his eyes and say “I’m just glad it’s not you that fell, son. It’s just my laptop. Because I don’t know how I’d feel seeing you on the ground, really hurt. But thank God, it’s not you that fell. It’s okay, it’s going to be fine.”
He couldn’t believe what I said. With hands all over his face, all he ever did was cry and embrace me tightly. He wouldn’t let go. And all 4 of us were in tears.
I just told him to be careful next time. And to be mindful. But I also emphasized that his life mattered more to me. A dent on a pristine laptop or even the car can be agitating. But even if I lost my files, I can do everything to restore them yet if I lost my son, how would we even recover from it?
This brings to mind a similar experience we had when my wife and the same son, accidentally dropped my brand-new iPhone 6 straight in the parking lot. The glass broke. But it was the assurance I gave my wife that counted more: “This I can fix, but you, you both are irreplaceable.”
I don’t know if you can relate.
But honestly, we do get upset (big time) when stuff like this happens. It’s because sometimes, we put stuff ahead of life. If I had berated my son, it would only affirm that these things are far more important than him. It would leave the wrong mark. It would undervalue his life. It would question his worth. Yes, we have to take care of stuff but life is and will always be more than stuff. There are some things that we need to loosely hold on to.
On the other side of the coin, Godly discipline IS necessary too. We can’t just blink and be too tolerant. We will only raise brats, not men or women. There comes a point that because their life matters and we love them, their character and behavior need correction, guidance, tough love, and firmness. Everything is understandable and forgivable, but not always excusable. There has to be a balance when it comes to fatherhood.
I am reminded that our children only have one childhood. The triggers in our lives that upset us externally, those disappointments, grievances, and frustrations (complicated by the pandemic, a storm, and a stubborn virus) — should never be aimed at them during an episode of failure. Instead, we ought to respond, listen, and make life meaningful for them, not unreasonable. It should be memorable, with a healthy mix of fun and inevitably some mischievousness; but never departing from values and life lessons that they can bring with them in their journey to become adults.