The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: children

More Than DNA


“THE HEART OF A FATHER IS THE MASTERPIECE OF NATURE.” Really? Antoine Francois wrote that a long time ago, but I sense I have fallen far short of that kind of nobility of soul. Because fathers never stop learning, it is almost impossible to arrive at anything near a “masterpiece”. Fatherhood itself is a series of rites of passage – births, first days of school, graduation, marriages, grandkids – which, no matter how many times they are experienced, leaves one with the feeling that we never get it quite right.

Most people are cursed with the idea that if only they could acquire something externally that they would be better people. Extra money, a better job, more patience or kindness, a sense of purpose – these are the usual suspects rolled out as objects worth procuring if we are to be more complete as humans. Because children, as they mature, constantly press the boundaries of their respective worlds, fathers always have to respond to so many challenges over the years that it can easily leave one with the sense that they can never be good enough to be the “masterpiece” dad.

Fortunately, in the great Circle of Life, there is a remedy inherent with humanity that eventually exposes the fallacy of such thinking. Over the years we come to realize that the great virtues of personality are not something external for which to reach but impulses that reside within us that must emerge over time. The cure for our underperformance is already housed in the very desire we feel to be better fathers to our children. The great religious teachers, moralists, and philosophers have always shown the way on this but in the pressures of living they are lessons often overlooked or forgotten entirely. The belief that we are better than our performance would indicate is one of the great drivers in human progress – and in fatherhood.

In this is the great genius of life and guardianship. We don’t become better guides for our children in order that we might assist them through life. It is actually the opposite: their very presence in our lives is what makes us fit to supervise their journey into adulthood. Those who witnessed the life of Abraham Lincoln never comprehended the depths of his soul until they saw him rolling on the floor with his children. The tenderness of such moments transcended the pressures of leading in wartime and introduced the world to a man of vastly deep treasures of human compassion.

In a very real way it is our children, through the very experience of raising them, that make us fit to mentor them. Love is not only the greatest parenting strategy there is; it actually is the great former and shaper of the parents themselves. It is their children that call those deep resources within their moms and dads to live at such a level where love can be free to operate.

For this reason many of us will never get over our fathers. We were never meant to because we, as their children, had a hand in raising them, in broadening understanding, in deepening their hearts. God put children in our lives for that very reason. People don’t become perfect, then have kids. They are blessed with parenthood and then learn to fill that responsibility as the years progress.

With seven children blessing my life, it is likely that any real strength of character or compassion that I have shown was refined by their very presence in my life, gracing my years and making me a better person. For all my failures, I have succeeded when they have been free to shape me. And now that I have four grandchildren, it is likely that such a refinement will continue until my final breath.

At times I wonder what it must be like for my kids to have walked along with me in this life. How do they see me? For all the benefits they have brought to me, have I sufficiently helped in preparing them for the rigors of life? Do they see me as a companion or some kind of distant moral instructor? I would hope it is the former, because that is what I have desired most. I have always concurred with Martin Luther King’s great observation that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But that bending best happens in companionship and friendship, and I can only pray that my kids see me in such a light.

It is my ultimate hope that my relationship with my children is more than just about DNA. That’s a natural passing on of the building blocks of life. But the other stuff – the love, respect, gratitude, lessons learned, and just sheer companionship – is what I hope they can perceive. To a very large degree they raised me, protected me, drew out some of the better parts of me. On this Father’s Day I can only thank them for their ongoing love and faithfulness. I have become a better man for their very willingness to engage with me and point me in the direction of a better humanity. On this special day, if there is any gratitude to be expressed it is from one blessed father to his remarkable children.

Christmas in Connecticut

child umbrellaWhat would Christmas be without a child? Would it fill us with such wonder, such pathos, such hope? Doubtful. According to the ancient scriptures, the moment God chose to take the form of a child humanity and God both took on new meaning. Divinity was approachable; humanity was suddenly capable of great elevation. The child is what makes Christmas, pure and simple.

Would the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut carry such deep pain within us if so many children hadn’t been killed? Would parents in Canada have rushed to school at the end of the day to usher their kids home with such a sense of intensity? Again, doubtful.

If author Carl Sandburg is correct, that a child, “is God’s opinion that the world should go on,” what happens to those parents as over 20 children’s voices go silent this weekend? How will they go on?

It remains one of the great ironies of humanity that people represent the best and the worst of it – its greatest hope and its ultimate danger. For the next few days thousands of Canadians will attempt to find some way of reaching out to a devastated community, either through prayer or through some gift of kindness. But in the end their ultimate motivation will be the overwhelming emotion of the loss of children. As they die, that portion of us still capable of a sense of wonder dies along with them. Children see magic because they look for it; we only rediscover it as we follow them. This is what Jesus meant when he reminded a generation that “even a child” would lead them in hope and faith.

In the famous movie Christmas in Connecticut, a well-known food writer, though single, attempts to convince others that she has children and leads a perfect kind of life. The movie is about how that falsehood is exposed but how she discovers love in the process. It’s a charming piece of cinema. Well, this Christmas in Connecticut, men and women who were real parents and who, like most of us, dedicated their lives for the betterment of their kids, have massive holes where their hearts used to be. Who of us can imagine the unbelievable sadness of it all – the unfilled stockings, the unopened presents, the lack of wonder on the faces on Christmas morning, the lack of joy at grandma and grandpa’s?

What transpired in Newtown will cause untold words to be written and said about why it happened. Gun control will be the big issue and it will be hotly debated. But this is life we are talking about here, not policy. Did the senseless murders constitute a deeper policy failure? Was there something more that could be done? This is not the time for such questions, though it will surely come. This is the time for humanity – the sheer depravity and nobility of it all. We must cry until we are spent, pray until we are wordless, give until we are poor. In the very season where we celebrate a child in a manger we have a community that has lost many of its children. The irony of this will drive us to despair, to question, to doubt.

But then we will look at our children and a spark will be kindled once more. There are parts in each of our beings that we had no idea existed until a child entered our lives. This is more true of mothers than anyone else, for they carried such life long before it became visible. And yet we all understand it. A tragedy that emptied our souls over the loss of so many young lives is somehow overcome, in time, through the very reality we feared we had lost – children. It’s just as Fyodor Dostoyevsky reminded us: “The soul is healed by being with children.”

As we have reached year’s end, we hear increasingly of the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world. The majority of us don’t buy it, of course, but right now, in Connecticut, the world just ended for loving families who are struggling to imagine how they can go on. How do you even wash the lost child’s bedding, pack away their toys, open a heart to their memories? This will be a long journey, a dark night of the soul that appears not to end.

But it will, through faith, endurance, community, love, support, and the need to get on with living. Above all, healing will return through children themselves. We must live with them, through them, and for them. We must come together as communities and acknowledge that more children are growing hungry than ever, that their economic futures are being robbed by the present, that their dreams now lie farther beyond their reach, that their world is more dangerous. Who knows, perhaps our children can lead us to the paths of equity where all are of equal importance, regardless of their differences, and we can obliterate the gap between rich and poor. Maybe we will learn our children never did fully belong to our present, but to a future calling out for itself. Maybe by allowing ourselves to be filled with wonder, as they are, we can heal ourselves.

But not right now. This is the moment of grief for some dear families in what was a peaceful town in Connecticut. We mourn with them, but we will pray that what they have lost this week will be recaptured through the presence in this world of those who yet possess the potential to bring us to a better day – the children.

A Dance For the Generations

Today’s the big day, as I head in shortly for the six-hour operation to have half of my stomach removed. It could have happened a couple of weeks ago except that an issue of vital concern preempted it – the wedding of my daughter Kimberly. I’d asked the surgeons if we could postpone the procedure so that I could be there for the big day. They graciously relented and it became one of the great events of my life.

In so many ways it’s doubtful that a father ever stands as tall in accomplishment as the occasion when he walks his daughter down the aisle. There’s simply little else to compare with that moment. She was radiant, excited, and absolutely wanting to get on with married life, as you would expect.

Speaking during the reception, I reminded those attending of how Michelangelo spent hours attempting to perceive the image in the blocks of marble that eventually formed part of his magnificent legacy. Other sculptors of the day attempted to impose their will, their respective vision, on the material, but Michelangelo instead believed that there was a vibrant form inside waiting to get out and he carefully spent months, years even, unleashing it. As I saw Kim that day I realized that both her mother and I had approached her in a similar fashion – an awesome life waiting to discover its own potential. As I took her arm to proceed down the aisle, I recalled Anne Frank’s own observation from her moving diary: “Parents can only give good advice or put their child on the right path, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

I was there the moment Kimberly was born, but on her wedding day she had burst out of her confines and become a remarkable presence and a gift to life. She had done it – took the best that we, and others, had to offer, but then developed them herself into a life that was fully ready to take on the future in goodness, compassion and zeal. What can you say as a father when you stand facing your daughter on her wedding day and realize that she has moved past you in potential? I was humbled in her presence – totally. Life had worked as it should. She was ready for her future; my past had been fulfilled.

We gave her love, but her thoughts were her own. We provided shelter but not her personality. She picked her marvelous mate, not us. She selected her future and we were inspired by her choices. When I kissed her and guided her to the hand of mate, Drew, I realized again that in some ways she was never fully our daughter. She was Life guaranteeing its own good future.

In so many ways Kimberly had accomplished the task life had given to her – it wasn’t just about parents producing children, but children producing adults. I had matured through her and had benefited through her growth. Fatherhood had become a long, slow letting go that started at the moment of her birth. But I received a fully grown woman as a consolation; my daughter had become my friend. My heart was somehow beating outside of my own body, inside the life of a daughter who will far outlast me.

Let me be truthful. I loved walking her down the aisle, just as I did speaking during the ceremony and the reception, but the moment I waited for more than anything else was the chance to dance with her – just the two of us – at the reception. In preparation, I had selected “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. It was the only song that made any sense after I realized what she had become. The moment the first strains began she moved on the floor towards me and the rest was magic. “I love you so much, Kim,” were the only words I said – the rest was gloriously lost in the rhythm of life. To watch us dance was to hear our hearts speak.

And then the moment of wonder occurred when all seven of my kids came up on the floor and we danced together. The circle of life was not only complete; it was full – and moving. When the three grandkids came up and joined us, I couldn’t help but wonder, What are the chances of this – together with them all, dancing as one?  My dancing partners were my promissory note to life, reminding me that, for a time, I lived and I mattered. It was all as God intended; I moved within my own narrative, fulfilled.

You’ll see some pictures at the bottom of this post that somewhat tell the tale of that dance of generations. I don’t mean to impose them on you, and there’s no need for you to view them if you’re not interested. But it was one of those magic moments that occasionally surprise us in life and these photos tell that story. They will be what flood my thoughts as I move into the operating room. By thankfully giving me that weekend, the surgeons guaranteed a more fulfilled patient. The memories will sustain my spirit and be there to greet me when I awake. I danced with all my kids and my grandkids just prior to a new challenge set before me. Can there be any greater inspiration? Can God be any kinder?

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