A FATHER’S BLESSING: WHAT MAKES A GREAT DAD? (Blessing Jar Week 22)

Is it too cliched to write about dads just after Fathers’ Day?

I’ve been wondering what makes a great dad. Not just what are the characteristics of a great dad but how a man becomes a great parent, what attitudes and circumstances lead to that apparent ease in the role.

Some of us, of course, have been blessed with the example of a great father as we grew up. All we’ve had to do is copy him, whilst adapting a few aspects to a new generation. Often, it’s so ingrained that it’s not even a conscious mimicking but one day, we notice ourselves using the same phrases with our children that we heard (‘I want doesn’t get’), stroking an ill child’s arm with the same comfort we received, or passing on the love of an activity like gardening or photography that we were taught.

These echoes and ripples flow naturally into our lives and sometimes we find ourselves driving the same roads together with our own offspring with those nostalgic memories a backbone for how to manage them. In our case, it literally is the same road – the A1 – as we repeat those precious university journeys side by side building strong connections with our now adult children.

Others, however, have experienced at best, patchy and at worst, terrible fathering. And yet I have seen a great dad grow even out of these. And, as none of us has perfect parents, the techniques (for want of a better word) to achieve this surely apply to all parents.

For a start, a poor experience can be a powerful motivator to be different. We know what it feels like to be on the receiving end so can be determined that our children will not share that, that we will not fall into whatever trapped our parent into their mistakes.

But to do that, we need to understand what led to our parents to making such mistakes. What parenting did they receive? What troubles weighed them down and what hurdles stood in their way before they ever became mothers and fathers? Let’s remember that they weren’t always parents, that they were (and continued to be) people first, with hopes and dreams, ambitions and worries, cares and nightmares.

Where did they start from and how does that compare with where they ended up? It’s easy to forget that the previous generation lived through history we have never come anywhere near. I don’t know what it was like to grow up through the London Blitz, to be evacuated from my family at only 11 years old, or to lose my home when my father was unemployed for years in the Depression. I didn’t experience living in a two room house, being brought up mainly by my sister from an early age, or having to move to another country to find work. How can such things have failed to have influenced, maybe even damaged, our parents? But knowing these things might help me see how much they achieved against such odds.

I bought my husband a T shirt once with the logo ‘Knowledge is Power’. It seemed apt for his going back to university. But now I think about it, I believe it would be more accurate to say that understanding is power. If we can understand our parents, their background, their motivations, even their deprivations, we can put their mistakes into context. We can then more accurately assess their parenting of us and we can better consider the legacy it leaves us.

However, understanding is useless without forgiveness. And that’s one of the most powerful things I have seen making someone a great dad – not just the decision to forgive children for their conscious mistakes or unconscious effects (sleep deprivation anyone?!) but also to forgive one’s own parent’s mistakes. That’s hard. It’s also not just a one-off decision and finished with. But it is possible.

George Elliot said:

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

I have seen a good dad with the utmost bravery ignore the option of denial and, instead, take the chaff and grain of his own childhood, carefully sift and search out the good so that none of it is lost, and then let go of the rest, refusing to give in to bitterness. That’s forgiveness.

I have seen him take the good from his past and apply it to his own parenting, adding to his store the experience of having other men God has sent into his life as fathers to him. That’s determination to become a good dad.

And the result? He isn’t a good dad – he’s become a great dad.

WORTH: lessons from a supply teacher (Five Minute Friday)

There was a supply teacher at our boys’ infants school who all the kids adored. They loved it when Mrs J was called in.

I guess it was difficult remembering all their names as she was brought at short notice into any one of nine different classes. So she got round it by calling each child ‘Special’.

But the thing was, the way she said it as she held a child’s gaze, she made every single one believe they were special. It wasn’t just a technique for overcoming an impossible number of names to recall, it was a genuine belief that every child was of great worth.

I knew, know, her outside of school. She spoke, speaks, to everyone like that. You come away from a conversation with her feeling truly listened to, as if everything you have to say, no matter how trivial, is important. She just has an amazing manner that makes you feel cared for after even a short interaction.

No wonder she is loved.

I think the secret is in order to be valued, you have to make others feel their worth. And that’s what she does.

It’s an example worth following.

This is my regular link up with the wonderful writers at Five Minute Friday. More posts can be found at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/06/15/christian-writing-life-worth/.  Why not take a look?

THE BLESSING OF (MY) BOYS (Blessing Jar Week 21)

I spend quite a bit of my life surrounded by boys. I’m the captain of a Boys’ Brigade Company and a mother of sons rather than daughters. When we took Belarussian children into our home for respite breaks, we always had boys. Even our cat was male. The only time the balance was redressed was courtesy of Amelia and Megan, our two guinea pigs.

I suppose like many people I had assumed that I would somehow recreate the family I grew up in – a son and a daughter. But I was sure in my second pregnancy that I was expecting another boy and I was right. However, if someone had told me I had the choice of only sons or only daughters, I would have gone for the former.

You see, I like boys. I like their liveliness and logic, their strength and their struggle. I like how a mad imp of a boy can turn into a thoughtful, caring young man. Since my teens, I found boys more straightforward and therefore easier to get on with than girls. There was no front, no fakery with them – if a boy disagreed with you or disliked you, you knew it – so there was no back stabbing either. As I’ve grown older, I’m not sure that’s entirely true: they’re more complex than that. But the fact remains – I like boys.

There may be times when I feel outnumbered, when the conversation passes me by and I can even feel a bit left out. There have been times when I would phone my mum just to hear another human being speak in whole sentences instead of grunts. And there are still times when I am exacerbated by silliness, terrible puns, and fart jokes.

But I have never missed out by only having sons. Things I had thought were unique to being a mother of daughters – not true, shopping for instance, including choosing jewellery and clothes. There is nothing quite like seeing your son in his first suit. And there is nothing like a fashion conscious young man patiently waiting outside a department store changing room to tell you how much an outfit suits you.

I was never allowed to do my elder son’s laundry when he came from university; in fact, he would text me at work to ask if I had any washing he could do before I came home. My younger son is quite the baker so he is the one who makes cakes to take back to his flat mates at the beginning of each term.

And there are all those other advantages of having sons. They are gentlemanly and kind as only young men can be. They carry bags, hold doors open, and lift heavy loads. They gallantly acknowledge that all the women in their family are forever 21 years old. And now they are grown, they tuck me under their shoulder for a hug, where their shape reminds me nostalgically of their father and grandfather.

They say, ‘I love you’ and, whilst I don’t expect to be the last, I know that I will always be the first woman they said that to.

In this period between their birthdays, I know that I have been truly blessed in my boys.

 

 

EXPECT (Five Minute Friday)

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday link up. More can be found here:  http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/06/08/adjust-your-expectations-fmf-link-up-expect/

Working in palliative care, I think I’ve lost much of my ability or habit of expecting things. Life has been proved to be unpredictable and day to day, it’s rare for any timetable to go exactly to plan.

But when I stop and think, I do still have expectations – not so much of events but of people and their behaviour. I expect them to be polite, well mannered, to say thank you. I expect other drivers to follow the rules of the road. I expect people to be honest and to keep their word. I expect them to listen and take in what’s said to them.

I suppose I have this ideal picture of the world and those who live in it, myself included, so when someone doesn’t live up to my expectations, I feel immense disappointment. And the person I am hardest on is myself.

I wonder if God has expectations of me, an ideal view of my life and behaviour? And I wonder how He feels when I miss the mark?

I believe in a perfect God, who never falls short. However, He doesn’t always live up to my expectations because my expectations are flawed and faulty. Somehow He perfectly balances love, mercy and forgiveness with justice and perfection in a way that my small brain finds hard to fully understand. I suppose, in a way, that His perfection lies in that balancing act.

My aim in life is to become more like Him. And as I get older, I think that’s not so much about living up to incredibly high standards of behaviour as approaching everything and everyone with love. And that can mean taking a breath to try and understand why someone acts in a certain way, making allowances for them when I feel frustrated, remembering that I make mistakes too and treating them as kindly as I would like to be treated.

That doesn’t mean accepting bad behaviour as ok or not standing up for what’s right. It’s a balancing act, where we somehow hold these apparently opposing stances at the same time. It reminds me of some of the poses in my yoga class – seemingly impossible to get into that position but becoming gradually more achievable with practise.

 

 

BLESSINGS IN A TIME OF TERRORISM (Blessing Jar Week 20)

It’s hard to know how to write a post on blessings the day after terrorists have killed 7 people and injured 48 others in my home city of London. It brings back memories of growing up there with the threat of IRA attacks just part of day to day life – even the unknown, unimportant little suburb that I lived in had its local railway station blown up.

I’m tempted to adopt a similar approach to the main UK political parties and suspend this Blessing Jar series for a short time. However, I’m also aware of the Biblical command to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5.18).

But how do you give thanks in circumstances like these?

Well, what strikes me is that the command is to give thanks in not for the circumstances. Perhaps it means acknowledging the awfulness but also remembering things to be grateful for. So here are the things that I’m thankful for in the midst of the horror:

I’m thankful for the speed and efficiency of the police which surely prevented further bloodshed.

I’m thankful for our amazing and brave emergency services, for the technology and skill that will hopefully save lives.

I’m thankful for our British determination to ‘keep calm and carry on’, for our refusal to be deterred from our daily routines and our democratic values.

I’m thankful, as a Christian, for a listening Father who I can throw all my difficult questions and emotions at.

I’m thankful for an empathetic Saviour, who lived in tumultuous and violent times Himself and understands our fears.

To be honest, that’s about as far as I can get.

Because in the midst of finding things to be thankful for, I am struggling with feelings of helplessness and anger. I am struggling to understand the motivations of someone to carry out such attacks as we’ve seen in the last 3 months in the UK. I’m struggling to understand such evil. And I’m struggling to understand how an all powerful God can stand by and let this happen even though I believe so much in the concept of free will, struggling to understand how He balances justice in one hand with love and mercy in the other, struggling to trust that He will ‘work all things together for good’.

So all I can do, as I try to stay with this discipline of counting my blessings each week, is echo the Psalmist’s words:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.” (Psalm 43.5)

FUTURE (Five Minute Friday)

Come and share the Five Minute Friday fun at our new home http://fiveminutefriday.com/.   Here’s my contribution to this week’s prompt ‘Future’ sparked by Kate Motaung’s own post.

Kate wrote in her opening post on this prompt, ‘the real joy lies – in the future’. I’m not sure if I agree with that.

Her job means she has spent a lot of time ‘dwelling on the past’ and finding it easy to ‘get bogged down by what needs to be done right now’. Mine means I spend a lot of time helping people make the most of what time they have left on this earth, valuing the quality of the present rather than the quantity of their future or past.

End of life care brings a different perspective and sense of time passing. While their clock may be ticking down apparently faster and faster, my brief often involves slowing the moments down by taking time to be with a person, to listen to them and hear who they are and who they’ve been, rather than just treat a patient.

Some have had enough and wish they could control the timing of their end, bring it forward. Others try to ignore the ever closer finishing line, pretending death can’t happen to them. Some carefully hand over details and responsibilities so loved ones are not left in further distress. Others wait for a miraculous cure. Some are haunted by unresolved issues from their past. Others are able to say they’ve had ‘a good innings’ and are ready to go.

But I think the future is always in their minds, acknowledged or not. In fact, past, present, and future are all somehow combined once someone is told their time left is short.

I wonder if it’s a bit like that for God? His name, Yahweh, is usually translated as ‘I am who I am’ but it can also be translated ‘I was who I was’ or ‘I will be who I will be’. If God is eternal, omniscient, time doesn’t exist for Him like it does for us. Our words and experience are too limited to be accurate but perhaps God exists in a perpetual Now.

I think those moments when we are ‘in the zone’ totally absorbed in a creative activity may be when we get a small taste of what that might be like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a planner by nature so I’m very future oriented. Even when I’m gardening, often what excites me most is seeing shoots coming up or buds starting to form – the promise of what’s to come. But for me, the ‘real joy’ is in the balance of past, present, and future, the valuing of all three, or even the dismissal of such limited distinctions.