A few weeks ago, my daughters and I were at our fledgling neighborhood park. It’s been dubbed the “sand park” because it used to have a big sandpit the girls loved to play in, along with a helicopter they could pretend in, and a playground set with monkey bars, slides, etc. It’s become even more lame because they remodeled. The sandpit is gone and has been replaced by a merry-go-round and the playground set is much smaller than the former. But we still have fun.
The girls decided to play hide and seek. I had to seek first, of course. As I leaned against the brick wall separating the park from a backyard I looked down and realized something was staring back at me. It was a moth lying flat and camouflaged against the brick. After I counted to 30 and successfully found the girls, I brought them over to show them. Then, during the game, I started paying attention. I found moth egg sacks everywhere, spiders hidden amongst the bark of the tree I hid behind, spiderwebs on the playset, wasp egg galls on leaves, other camouflaged moths, and plenty of other creatures. As we adventured all over, I pointed them out to the girls.
After I found the girls again and were about to leave, we had to look for my eldest’s Tamagotchi (why are those popular again?) because they were laying in the grass behind a hill and it fell out of her pocket. I delayed the hunt because I kept pointing out discoveries. It was at this time my youngest said “Wow dad, you’re really into nature. I had no idea.” I was actually a little flustered (it’s the only word that comes to mind to express how I felt) by this. I mean come on. How could she not know? We play in the bayou behind our house finding turtles, snakes, dragonflies and other critters. We climb trees as often as possible (my youngest can climb to the tippy top of our magnolia tree). I’ve become a bird nerd and have learned most of birds in our neighborhood, like cardinals, blue jays, blue birds, gray hawks, sparrows, mockingbirds, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, black bellied whistling ducks, and grackles. Do you get the picture? How could she not know I like nature?!
“Really, you didn’t know that?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “I thought you were only into God stuff.”
Now I was totally thrown off. Only God stuff? Now don’t get me wrong. I keep God first in my life. But doesn’t my daughter know me? Have I totally failed to share myself with her?
I took a breather from that momentary vision of fatherhood failure. My daughters know me. They know what I’m into. I think “God stuff” had been in the forefront for her because, well, we may have fallen behind on religious ed home study, so I may have bribed her with hot chocolate in the morning if we could wake up 30 minutes early before school a few times a week to work on chapters to catch up. But honestly, the little moment of self reflection I had reminded me how open I am with my kids and how much they pay attention.
My kids do know me. And it brings so much joy into my life. They obviously know I’m into “God stuff.” They see me pray and read and it's an important part of our lives. They know I love beer. When they go grocery shopping with mom they sometimes ask to pick a beer to bring home to me. They know I love powerlifting. They’ve seen me compete and they love to make fun of me by saying I’m weak by imitating me failing to lift something light like a fork. They know I like to read. So much so that they have to tell me to stop reading when I’m in bed with them so I can cuddle instead. They know I like to write short stories. Along with their friends they asked me to write a scary story about them.
It’s always been important to me to share my interests with my kids. I used to have a fear that my kids would have PK (pastor kid) experiences like I heard from my Protestant friends (I’m not a pastor but I’ve worked in ministry for years and we are currently a missionary family). Stories about kids growing up and everything was church, church, church. And those kids could sometimes rebel hard against the faith. I want them to know our faith and its place of prominence in our lives. I have to model that. But I also want to model having interests and hobbies. So I choose to share them and let my daughters see me engaging in them.
I want them to know that you can be a super faith-filled person and also have other interests. I’ve experienced it for years, the shock that teens have when they find out you, the youth minister, core member, missionary, etc., have other interests outside of faith, that you’re not in the church 24/7.
I know this may seem basic but I’ve met so many kids who don’t know their parents’ interests. Or I’ve met parents who don’t bother to have other interests, so when you ask them what brings them joy they don’t have an answer. Some people think their lives and interests have to be put on hold due to marriage and family life. But how can we expect our kids to want to be well-rounded active people if we can’t model it? And then as they get older we then feel as though we’ve lost ourselves.
I want them to know that my priorities are God first, my wife second, them third, and everything else after. But it’s also good and okay for me to step away to lift, lay in my hammock and read, or have a beer with friends. And that I’d drop those to be joyfully interrupted by them. I want our lives to be intersectional to where they can cheer me on and relish in my joys as I cheer them on and encourage them, and burst with joy in their joy.
So in this season of summer and the girls being home we are finding caterpillars and their chrysalises and waiting for them to hatch into butterflies, we’re testing out the hammock bug net so as not to be eaten by mosquitoes under the bridge, I’ll go lift, the girls have dance and gymnastics, and they’ll see me pray in the morning and we’ll pray before bed. And it is in these things we can share joy and grow and be challenged and find that it is all, each and every day, a gift.