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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Father's Disappointment...

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Murillo...
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Lk 15:20)

It's hard to live up to the image of the loving father in the story of the prodigal son.  It's even harder when pride, ego and self-righteousness get in the way, which in my case, is often! 

One recent night after dinner, I was kicking back on the couch, minding my own business, enjoying a glass of wine, when my wife and 14-year-old daughter came up to me and sat on either side of me.  My wife said my daughter had something to tell me.

Right away, I thought,"Oh boy," and started bracing for something unpleasant, sort of like the feeling you get when you walk into a dentist's office; no matter the reason why you are there! (No offense to my dentist friends!)  Although, in all honesty, I thought it would be more along the line of some teenage drama about getting something she really needed, like the time my wife approached me for her to get a cell phone, or that she wanted my blessing to attend or partake in something.

Well, let's just say, I wished it had been a cell phone!  My daughter started stammering and stalling, "You know like when you do something and you think it's no big deal at the time..." 

My wife looked at her sternly and said, "Don't.  Just get to the point!"

My daughter blurted out, "I got in trouble at school."

I was like, "What?" But, before I could gather my thoughts and say anything, she went on to say, "I got suspended."

Suspended?  Now, I really started reeling. 

You got to understand, my daughter is an honor roll student; what is more, a member of the National Junior Honor's Society.  She's among the top students in her class.  She was a member of the Student Council and has always been a teacher favorite because she is quite, smart and stays out of trouble.  The only time she ever had a problem in school was in the 5th Grade, when she had to serve detention for missing a homework assignment that she had completed but forgot at home!

In other words, she's a good girl, or as Tom Petty might add, "loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too."

I won't get into the details on why she got in trouble because I think she is embarrassed enough as it is and sincerely repentant and this story is not so much about her, as it is about me.

I was hurt.  I was humiliated.  I was angry.  I questioned what we did wrong; and more precisely, what I did wrong (and thus, was disappointed in myself).  I felt betrayed; not just by the situation but by the fact that it had been kept from me for a few weeks (as my wife was tried to figure out how to tell me without me blowing my top, which, of course, I did!).   

For the next few days, I didn't know what I should do to convey the disappointment I felt or what repercussions should come of it.  Should I ground her for the rest of the year, including her graduation dance and the parties that were sure to come during her final year before high school?  Should I take away her cell phone until she gets to college!  Should I force her to watch endless hours of old black and white TV re-runs?

This was a serious.  Even in my wildest days, I had never been suspended.  Then again, my first day of class during my senior year in high school would have prompted a suspension, if I had been caught!

Now, I didn't talk to my wife about the way I was feeling because I was upset at her as well!

Not knowing what to do and not being able to hide my dejection, I kind of just stayed away from my daughter and any contact I did have with her was at arms-length at best.  She noticed because she told her mother that I was shunning her and got an earful of "You're not being fair" and "Remember when you were young" from my wife.

I can be real hard on my daughter.  I guess it's because she's the oldest, has so much potential and (not to mention) looks like me and has my temperament.  Therefore, I expect more from her.  I want her to set the example for her siblings.  I want her to lead and not follow; to swim against the tide and not be led down it like a log, as GK Chesterton would say.  I want her to achieve her full potential, whatever it may be, and not settle for easy, which being a lot like me, she has a tendency to do.  So, I often ride her; too often, according to my wife.

Several days went by, then one day, as I was praying for God's guidance on my way to work, I heard a conversation in the background on a podcast I had on my car radio.  The speaker mentioned the story of the Prodigal Son; and, more importantly, the Loving Father.

He too had been humiliated by his son, who asked for his inheritance while he was still alive, as if to say, "I wish you were dead already."  He too was hurt when his son decided to leave his home and move to a foreign land, as if to say, "I want nothing more to do with you."  He too must have felt betrayed, angry and disappointed.  But, he never showed it. 

He patiently waited for his son's return.  He probably prayed and, I'm sure, shed some tears along the way.

And, when the day finally came, instead of pridefully telling his son, "I told you so" (which might be something I would do!), he went out to meet him while the son was still a distance away and showed him nothing but love, mercy and forgiveness.

I was ashamed at the way I had treated my daughter.  I realized my reaction was not as much about her and what she had done as it was about me; my injured pride, my ego and my reputation.

This had nothing to do with me; any more than my own transgressions were a reflection or had anything to do with my parents and the way they raised me!  It was just part of life; the mistakes kids make on the way to adulthood.

That night, when we had a brief moment alone in the kitchen after dinner, I went up to her and embraced her tightly.  I kissed her and told her I loved her.  I didn't want to say much more.  In fact, I was afraid of saying anything more and breaking into tears, so I left it at that.  As we let go, I noticed her eyes had watered as well. 

It's not easy to be a parent these days.  Not that in past generations it was any easier, especially for the early Christians, who had to worry about their kids becoming lunch for lions in the coliseum, but the temptations, pressures and culturally accepted norms that kids face today in this highly technological world, where embarrassing pictures and videos can go viral, cyber-bullying and threats have replaced physical bullying, since, for kids, it's just as bad to have their reputation tainted on social media then to actually get beat up, and the temptations and anonymity they have at their finger tips or a click away, make it easier to stray off the path.

That's no excuse.  Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter how much pressure or culturally accepted a wrong may be.  But, we all have our share of embarrassing or less-than-proud moments in life, and, for me, whether it was my first day of class my senior year, my Grad Night, or the time my dad had to bail me out of jail, just to name a few, I'm no one to throw stones, especially at my own daughter.

Maybe, it's one of the many reasons God gives us children; to experience the lowest of lows of His Fatherly disappointment whenever we fail and the highest of highs when we come to our senses, repent, ask for forgiveness and thus succeed.  Life is full of failures and, many times, the only way to succeed is learning from them.

This was the first time I was disappointment by something my child had done but with a young teenager and two other children not far behind, I'm sure it won't be the last.  I learned that the only way to get through the unavoidable letdowns in the future is to be that loving father, who always shows love, mercy and forgiveness...

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