Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Confirmation

I just finished James Dobson's book Bringing Up Boys. About half the book was comprised of political rants in which Dr. Dobson is trying to scare the reader regarding the "liberal elite" or the "radical gay agenda." During those times in which he deviated from the political rants, there was, as one would expect from someone with Dr. Dobson's background in family counseling, wonderful advice for a guy trying to raise a son to love Jesus.

Although clearly over the top and despite the fact that they were the only two people in my life (including other TFA directors) who believed I was wrong for putting my family first, some of the guilt laid upon me during that last desperate attempt from two directors of Kansas City Teach For America still follows me around. Maybe someday I'll publicly share all the things of which they accused me and the creative ways they tried to leverage guilt to coerce me to stay in my teaching role, but for now I'll just share one of their tactics. That tactic was to explain to me how my son would never respect me were I to walk away from TFA's mission in KCMSD. That one was saved for the end of our meeting. I guess it was a final Hail Mary of sorts.

I knew however, that the act of neglecting my own son while trying to save a group of other father-less boys was not worth it. I can't save the world at the cost of my own family. I can still remember my former Pastor, Dan Arnold, talking about that in his sermons. About that same time in my life, I was at a Promise Keepers event with my dad and made a life-long commitment to never sacrifice my family for "ministry." I had been thinking however, that two years of my son's life wasn't that much; he'd only be 2.5 - 4.5 during this teaching gig, surely we could reconnect afterwards. That rationalization, thankfully, was countered by a good friend Noel Forester, who informed me that those years are some of the most important for father-son bonding. This timely piece of wisdom was backed up in Dobson's book.

"A father holds awesome power in the lives of his children, for good or ill. Families have understood that fact for centuries.... When asked who their heroes are, the majority of boys who are fortunate enough to have a father will say, 'It's my dad.' On the other hand, when a father is uninvolved - when he doesn't love or care for his kids - it creates an ache, a longing, that will linger for decades... boys are constructed emotionally to be dependent on dad in ways that were not understood until recently.
We now know that there are two critical periods during childhood when boys are particularly vulnerable. The most obvious occurs at the onset of puberty, when members of both sexes experience an emotional and hormonal upheaval. Boys and girls at that time desperately need their father's supervision, guidance and love. Divorce at that time, more than at others, is typically devastating to boys. But according to Dr Carol Gilligan, professor at Harvard University, there is another critical period earlier in life - one not shared by girls. Very young boys bask in their mother's femininity and womanliness during infancy and toddlerhood. Fathers are important then, but mothers are primary. At about three t0 five years of age, however a lad gradually pulls away from him mom and sisters in an effort to formulate a masculine identity. It is a process known as a 'disconnection and differentiation,' when, as Don Elium writes, 'the inner urge of the male plan of development nudges him out of the nest of the mother over a precarious bridge to the world of the father.' It is typical for boys during those years, and even earlier, to crave the attention and involvement of their dad and try to emulate his behavior and mannerisms."

"While you're climbing the ladder of success, don't forget your own family. Those years with your children at home will be gone in a heartbeat. Do whatever is necessary to grab those precious moments, whether it requires changing jobs, getting a smaller house, or turning down lucrative and exciting opportunities. Nothing is worth losing your kids. Nothing!"

Of course, ministry and family are in no way mutually exclusive. Here's a great article that explores that tension, Before Saving the World, Go See Your Family.

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