Slow Down: a Dad's Reflection

Our kids just finished fifth and seventh grade. Unless God has unexpected plans for us, elementary school is now in our rear view mirror. The week of my son’s fifth grade promotion, Nicole Nordeman’s “Slow Down” came on. I froze as and welled up as she sang:

Here's to you
You were pink or blue
And everything I wanted
Here's to you
Never sleeping through
From midnight till the morning
Had to crawl before you walked
Before you ran
Before I knew it
You were trying to free your fingers from my hand
'Cause you could do it on your own now somehow

Slow down
Won't you stay here a minute more
I know you want to walk through the door
But it's all too fast
Let's make it last a little while
I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly
I am your biggest fan
I hope you know I am
But do you think you can somehow
Slow down

Most parents can relate to the power of Nordeman’s song. It touches a deep and beautiful place. She speaks of the tenderness and the closeness of her relationship with her children and the fact that their independence is happening faster than she is ready for.

My children still hug me tight and let me kiss them in public. They gut laugh at my jokes that apparently are perfectly suited for the pre and early teen audience. I’m a husband, son, a brother, a pastor, a friend. But there is no question in my mind what I’m best at: I’m best at being a dad. And the years are flying by and these days are short. Far too short. Like Nordeman, I want to hold on – tightly. But I am reminded, parenting is not about me, it is about them and holding on can be a selfish act.

There is another song that has haunted me lately. It is by a very different artist, Sean Rowe, a secular folk singer with a haunting baritone. His song ”To Leave Something Behind” was written for his son. In the song, he offers his son the best gift he can offer – his wisdom:

I cannot say that I know you well
But you can't lie to me with all these books that you sell
I'm not trying to follow you to the end of the world
I'm just trying to leave something behind

Words have come from men and mouse
But I can't help thinking that I've heard the wrong crowd
When all the water is gone my job will be too
And I'm trying to leave something behind

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread
And the ceiling is hard to reach
Oh the future ahead is broken and red
But I'm trying to leave something behind

This whole world is a foreign land

Oh money is free but love costs more than our bread
And the ceiling is hard to reach
When my son is a man he will know what I meant
I was just trying to leave something behind
I was just trying to leave something behind

Rowe is speaking to his grown son who has experienced success and a rift has grown up between them. Where Nordeman holds, Rowe releases, where Nordeman delights in her deep knowledge of her child, Rowe confesses how little he knows his son. Nordeman shares how she has led her child, Rowe confesses that his life hasn’t reached the ceiling he hoped it would. There is truth and beauty in both song, but Rowe’s song might more deeply reflect biblical parenting. There are three ways Rowe models godly parenting:

1)      Parenting as releasing

My heart wants my children to slow down. I want to hold on. Angel and I frequently talk of how few the years are that we get to have them in our home. But my call as a dad is to help train up my children in the way they should go, so that when they are old they will not depart from it.[i] My responsibility is to steward, to lead, and to release my children so that they might become the woman and man God is shaping them into. If parenting is the most significant stewardship God gives us in our lives, then we must release that which has been given us back into his care. This is why we practice children’s dedication – as a reminder to us of who our children belong to at the very beginning of their lives, and by dedicating ourselves to God’s purposes, not ours, for their lives.

2)      Parenting as confession

Rowe’s confession to his son is painful, but powerful. The first words out of his mouth acknowledge his failure: “I cannot say that I know you well.” Rowe’s absence makes him and his son ache. His confession doesn’t end there: “I can’t help thinking that I’ve heard the wrong crowd.” Rowe knows that his foolishness has not just hurt himself, it has hurt his son, too. Our world preaches self-sufficiency and that we shouldn’t ever apologize for being ourselves. But the gospel says that a life without confession is a life of deceit: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”[ii] I love my children well if they hear my confessions, if they know my sinfulness.

3)      Parenting as sharing

Rowe repeats again and again in the song that he is “just trying to leave something behind.” What is it that he is trying to leave behind? Wisdom. The book of Proverbs is Solomon’s attempt to do likewise. He begins the book: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”[iii] What will my children remember that I taught them? Rowe warns his successful son and points him away from money and from professional ladder climbing (“the ceiling is hard to reach”) to relationships and love. You won’t find contentment in a life lived for your vocation, Rowe says. Rowe humbly and earnestly spills out the hard earned wisdom of his life to his beloved son as an inheritance.

I want my children to slow down. These are sweet, beautiful days. Like Mary, I am treasuring up these memories.[iv] But I know that my ultimate responsibility, as a steward of these precious souls, is to release them and leave behind with them the gifts of confession and wisdom. Thank you, Sean Rowe, for cutting my heart with a reminder of the heart of parenting.

 

Photo credit: Caleb Jones/Unsplash

 

[i] Paraphrase of Proverbs 22:6

[ii] 1 John 1:8-10

[iii] Proverbs 1:8-9

[iv] Luke 2:19