If we want to take this job of parenting with any hope of seriousness we must accept this fact. No matter how well intentioned, dedicated, and focused we are, our children’s clearest moments and brightest memories, those with the most lasting influence, good or bad, will likely happen during times we would consider least important. On its surface this doesn’t make sense; it flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about ‘intentional parenting’. But our motivation does little to change the importance of unimportant moments, and I offer a page from my own storyline to prove the point.
Life in a rural Southern Baptist home is decorated with brightly colored formalities. One of the more shimmering among these procedural ornaments is profanity. Aside from the occasional and uncontrollable outburst after being kicked by a mule or smashing one’s finger under a trailer hitch, no one cursed in our family, ever. Once, around the age of ten, I slipped and blurted ‘son-of-a-bitch’ after ramming a hand-operated drill into my thigh and spent the next five minutes with a bar of Irish Spring in my mouth. I might talk like a British sailor on the school bus home but the moment my feet hit our driveway I was a perfect choirboy again. Unsurprisingly college allowed adequate time and distance to turn my profanity into a sport. By that first winter break I knew what obscenity allowed for maximum effectiveness and how and when to use it. Yet our property line, like some potty-mouth force field, repelled any hope of showing off my newly formed talents around mom and dad. No amount of intellectual attainment could wash all those suds from my mouth.
Doing penance one cold December afternoon in that temple where my father was high priest – his horse barn – he dropped, with little motivation, the ‘F’-bomb, the Grand Madame of all obscenities. In twenty years on this earth it was the first time I had ever heard it spoken by anyone in our family. The after shocks continued as he went about his business like nothing had happened. There was no sorrow, regret, or remorse; he just went on doing what he had as if I were anybody other than his son. But that was the whole thing and why that seemingly innocuous event has stayed with me for two decades. Because in that moment he gave me, his only boy, the first tangible evidence that I was someone else. It was the first time in my life that I realized he now saw me as an equal, as one of his friends who knew he was human and a maker of mistakes. It was when I knew he considered me a man. Is there any doubt why I still remember it today?
When I think on that I can’t help but wonder what unimportant moments have influenced my own kids and how would I know? What thoughtless impulse has fallen on them like an anvil, while never showing it it bothered them? What, in passing, have I said or done that fortified their tiny souls and bolstered their confidence without their slightest reaction? It may take them just as many decades to discover and that frightens me. I shutter to think that either of my kids would keep hidden some foolish remark or action done by me in the heat of a thoughtless moment.
It’s fortunate that children are the most forgiving creatures on the planet, otherwise we’d be helpless. We’re human, fallible, and makers of mistakes. So the best any parent can do is devour our pride while nurturing an intense humility and a startling eagerness to apologize; making right whatever we see is wrong. Because it’s only a matter of time before we face the reality that when it comes to being a parent the most important things usually happen in the most unimportant moments.