I sit here in the car driving home from the office. My twelve year old son sits next to me and I think back on the years in which our relationship developed into what it is today.
When the doctors pulled that little guy out of the womb (by C-section) almost thirteen years ago, he screamed like banshee, and just kept on screaming. . . for years, only taking a breath now and then for eating and sleeping. That’s how we were abruptly and a little rudely introduced to parenting so many years ago.
At the beginning, fathering for me involved bringing home a paycheck and a good night kiss on his forehead. I was too busy changing the world, writing books, running for governor of the state, and that sort of thing. I was too busy changing the world to realize that all my activity out in the world couldn’t hold a candle to the kind of deep-seated, long term effect I could have in the life of one solitary little boy. I just kept the door to my office closed so I could concentrate better on changing the world. He was three years old and still screaming an awful lot.
I heard somewhere that it might be a good idea to read the Bible as a family and we began a daily habit of, what we called, “Bible Time.” This was a huge leap in my conception of parenting, although I was later to discover that this fifteen-minute-a-day routine was not enough for me to build a relationship.
My son had a strong will, strong emotions, and a strong mind. He was a difficult boy.
When we would ask for counsel from other experienced parents, they would take one look at him and freeze in terror. Days, months, and years of intense training seemed to drag without signs of improvement. Then one day something changed. He had changed. Although still running on high-octane during waking hours, there was an edge that was missing. Months after we noticed the change, the little boy came to his mother and said, “Mom, I think that God has given me a white heart.” Two parents thanked the Lord with tears in their eyes.
Meanwhile, the corporate ladder in the manufacturing world did not allow much room for my son. The rungs were pretty narrow and the hours were long. A little five year old would tag along on Saturdays to the big corporation. But the security guard would spend more time with him than daddy would because daddy was busy writing reports and supervising the weekend shifts.
After seven years in the corporate world, I began to seek a more efficient way to change the world with what gifts I perceived I had. If it wasn’t politics and the corporate world, maybe it was ministry. Leaving the corporate world did allow more time with my family, but ministry is important work. Soon the ministry began to take me away for extended periods of time. Once more my heart was drifting from my home and my son.
When he turned 11 years old, the Lord brought a crisis into our lives that pointed me back to the relationship. After much prayer we reached the decision that my wife would no longer homeschool our son. He would be with me. He had been surrounded by four little women and a mother every day, and it was obvious that it was going to be pretty tough for him to grow into a man that way. So we decided that we would end his homeschooling right there. From then on, he would car-school, office-school, conference-room school, and restaurant-school. He would be with me.
Now he lives his life with me. He is close enough every day to see me work and talk and negotiate and pray and disciple. The relationship has grown remarkably close. I love him more than I ever have before. And I think I’m beginning to know a little bit of what it is to disciple a little boy and teach him how to be a man.
How I’m Learning to be a Father
Over the years that I have raised my son, I have stumbled upon a few things about parent-child relationships.
Be a World-Changer
The first thing I have learned about relationships is that this is really how you change the world. Jesus turned the world upside down by spending three years discipling twelve. Those of us blessed with families find that it is our families that equip us for success in the world. It is the success I enjoy in my familial relationships that provides a basis for success elsewhere. “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”
The second thing I have learned is that relationships take time. There is really no such thing as a quality ten minutes here and there. We are together for hours and hours now everyday.
We travel together like this quite often. We really don’t talk that much. We sit quietly, comfortably, commenting on a news story, something he just read, a phone call, a billboard, a challenging business decision, the price of eggs, or what a great wife I’ve married. Disciple-ing a child really does involve teaching the Word diligently (the Hebrew word is “Shinantam”) every day as we walk by the way, as we rise up, as we lay down, as we sit in our house, and as we drive in the car (Deut. 6:7).
Husband and Father First
The third thing I have learned is that I am not an E.D. of a non-profit organization. I’m a D.A.D. who happens to be an E.D. My Dad-ness is more defining of who I am. When people used to ask me what I do, I would tell them I was an engineering manager. It took years before I found out that I was first a husband and a father, and, oh yes, a few other things.
Point Your Children to God
The fourth thing I have learned from my relationship with my son, is that there is a connection between God and dad in my son’s mind. My son may do something for me and he may do it for God. My son wants to make me proud. I can see him trying hard to please me. I do not want him to do things for love and honor of dad and not do them for love and honor of God. But it is plain to me that if he learns to do things for the love of his father, that will do a great deal to propel him towards a relationship with a heavenly Father. The fifth commandment is thus connected to the first. If a son does not learn to love and honor his father, how will he learn to love and honor his heavenly Father?
The fifth thing I have learned about relationships is that God does things in me so he can do things in my son. Relationships run in two ways. When setting out to train a son, you begin with a very imperfect little boy. But that’s not the only problem. You also have a very imperfect little daddy in the equation. In this discipling relationship, I have on many an occasion come face to face with a challenging question, “Do you really love this boy?. . . How much do you love him?”
But that wasn’t the only question I had to face. I heard a question given in dead earnest tone, and it sounded like the voice of Jesus in John 21:15: “Do you really love me?” I replied, “You know that I love you, my Saviour.”
Nudging me back to my son, he tells me through his Word, “Then feed My lamb. Love My lamb.”
That was when I discovered that my love for Jesus has a lot to do with my love and discipleship of my son. The power of relationships and discipleship has more to do with love than anything else.
Lead by Example
The sixth thing I have learned about the father-son relationship is that he is basically going to turn out like me. I hear him praying and he sounds like me. I hear him speak in an impatient tone to his sisters and even as I correct him, I think to myself, “I think I recognize that tone.” Seized by horror for a brief moment, I realize that he is turning out like me.
That brings up the seventh thing I have learned from our relationship. I am showing my son how to live, how to struggle, how to engage the warfare. When he was young, I used outside constraints to engage the warfare for him. I fought his battles for him by discipline, rules, and structure. I could demonstrate my internal struggles over his soul through prayer and exhortation, but I was still fighting for him.
As he grows older, I find that I need to show him how to engage the struggle. With increasing levels of transparency, I show him more of my own struggles against the world, the flesh, and the devil. I must demonstrate the life of confession and repentance for him, because he’s going to grow to be an imperfect man just like his daddy.
As we stand side by side in the struggles of life, I tell him, “Watch me son.” I swing the sword a few times. I get down on my knees and I cry out to God for His help. I turn to him and say, “Now son, it’s your turn to pray. You take the sword and swing it yourself. Because it’s your fight now.”
I ask him from time to time, “Are you fighting it, son, or do you want me to fight this one for you?”
He tells me, “I sure am fighting it Dad. I read my Word this morning, and I think I’m stronger than I was yesterday.”
So here we are, two warriors riding home together again. One of us may still be a tad shorter than the other, but our hearts are knit together in the same battle, the same faith, and the same vision, by the same Lord.
By Kevin Swanson
Homeschooled himself in the 1960′s and 70′s, Kevin Swanson and his wife, Brenda, are now homeschooling their five children. Kevin has 35 years of experience in the homeschooling movement and serves as the Director of Generations with Vision – a ministry he founded to strengthen homeschool families around the country. As a father who wants to leave a godly heritage for his own five children, Kevin’s passion is to strengthen and encourage the homeschooling movement all over the world, and to cast a vision for generations to come.
This article was originally published on Generations with Vision. Used by permission of Kevin Swanson. © 2013 Generations with Vision. All Rights Reserved.
“Father and Son,” © 2008 Gilles Guerraz, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.
“Knights of Sunset,” © 2009 Ali Almukhaizeem, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.