From an early age we learn that failures are faults. That actions have reactions called consequences which are often just thinly veiled punishments. That you get one shot to get things right and what the world expects of you, you’d better deliver on time, under budget, and with better-than-expected results.
This is what awaits you, daughter. It’s my job to prepare you, son. I hold the destiny of your character in my hands and I feel the weight of the responsibility to help you learn how to navigate through the violent and unflinching challenges that will be hurled your way.
From just a gut-instinct level, my response to life, as a man, is often to become hard and harsh myself. To steel myself against the hurricane force winds and to grit my teeth through the pain. So at my core I feel these are important traits for you to learn, though you are just six years old and love to create and dance. I want you to be able to withstand the harsh criticisms that are bound to come, but at the tender age of four, you are hardly man enough to comprehend what even those criticisms might change in you.
I get short with you. I come down hard on your mistakes. I want you to understand there is a line in the sand and ensure your compliance to not cross it. I want you to know the rules and follow them. Sometimes it must seem like I demand perfection, and sometimes, regretfully, I think I do.
That’s why, when I’m right in the midst of it, it’s good for me to hear the words, “Tough, yet tender.” It’s important for me to remember all my mistakes. There are too many to count, and many more that I would be embarrassed to even tell you about. But remembering my slip-ups, my failures, drives home this one important truth.
Even I didn’t get it right the first time.
We all need second chances.
That’s why this week I’ve been more thoughtful perhaps in the ways that I discipline. It hasn’t changed how bad your behavior might be. In fact, it’s kind of been ironic to me that the week I’m feeling driven to give grace is the week that your actions have elicited the strongest responses in me.
Pax, I know you wanted to play your video game, and I don’t even remember the reasons why I was saying no, but I will never forget your response when you said straight-faced, “Dad, I will kick you, in your face, if you don’t let me play Super Mario Brothers.” Shocked doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Your words were already like a kick in the face to me! Where did you learn that?! (Preschool, no doubt.) Still, there was no excuse. You know that was not kind. And in this day and age, you just cannot say stuff like that to anyone. I don’t want you to become a bully. The world is harsh, but it will treat you even harder if you try to threaten people to get what you want. I told you I was going to take your video games away for the rest of the day. I could see that it crushed you. You went up to your room, slowly placing one dejected foot in front of the other until you had reached the top of the stairs. That’s when the tears came.
Ella, tonight at dinner we had another one of our food arguments. Snacking needs to stop. You have to eat real food! You had already had candy at school, a donut later in the day, and you finished your brother’s slushy. A fruit roll up just before meal time was out of the question. We would have gladly given it to you after you ate the dinner your mom worked so hard to prepare. You even started out with a great positive attitude telling her, “Thank you for all the hard work you did making dinner. I’ll try it.” which is exactly what I have asked you to say when you’re tempted to spout off about how you don’t like something, even before you see it. I don’t know if it was just because you were tired, but there was a thick line that you crossed when you stuck out your tongue and spit at my wife’s face. I sent you to your room and came up a few minutes later to tell you to never treat my wife like that again. Papa came to your rescue when it was time to take you to ballet. I told you we’d talk about what your punishment would be when you got back. You cried on your way out the door. I knew you felt bad for what you did, but that was just unacceptable.
In both of these moments I thought about how serious your transgressions were. Surely these aren’t the situations that demanded grace. Certainly, if any behavior warranted punishment and correction it would be this! But then I thought, how weak would your idea of grace be if it only applied to the little mistakes. It wouldn’t seem like such a big deal at all. You wouldn’t appreciate it. You wouldn’t want to become it. And more than anything I want you to become gracious.
I personally understand how hard grace can be to give. It’s painful to give it. Especially to people who don’t deserve it. I wrestle everyday with knowing where grace should end. Should grace end? Hopefully, I never force you to need to answer that question.
But I want you to experience it now, under my care, because I know you’re not yet ready to face the winter storms of life. I’m your father and I love you. You know what you did was wrong. I don’t need to always be tough. Sometimes, when the stakes are highest, I need to show you that your daddy’s heart is soft. That there is room to fail and grow. That home is a safe place.
Pax, you’re so young. I don’t always claim to know what is going on in that little head of yours. Of course you were genuinely excited, when about two hours later, I told you I was going to give you a second chance and let you play your game. Hopefully, we’ll have lots of opportunities to learn grace together.
And Ella. Dear, sweet Ella. Tonight when I sat at your bedside and told you I was going to give you grace, the thumbs up you gave me betrayed your eyes that looked on the verge of tears. You smiled soon after and we put it behind us. I read you a bedtime story and we put the bookmark at the end of the chapter like we always do. Tomorrow is a new day. A new chapter. Today’s story ended with grace. And tomorrow? I’m sure we’ll both need more grace to see us through.