Well, earlier this week Tonia and I dropped off our second son at Logan airport, for him to fly to Fort Leonard Wood, MO for basic training and job training as an army combat engineer. This wasn’t our first bird to leave the nest: our firstborn has been away to university these past couple of years. But this leave-taking felt harder.
Not because we love one boy more than the other. Our five kids routinely haul out the “you love him/her more than me” accusation. They don’t know nuttin’. Some of you know what I’m talking about: as one child follows another into the family, parents get to experience something remarkable – the unabating multiplication of love.
You thought you couldn’t love another child as much as your first, but then, for instance, little Kai arrives, and you do love him just as much as Ben. And the plot thickens: no love had to be lifted from Ben in order to love Kai.
And as they get older, another truth of love emerges: my love for Ben is different from my love for Kai and my love for Paul and my love for Tess, and my love for Liesel. I love Ben for his Ben-ness. I love the Kai-ness of Kai. I don’t want Tess to be Liesel or the other way around. I love them as individuals.
And they are individuals. Considering just the boys: Ben has enthusiasm and confidence and charisma on the surface with something lonely and melancholy gliding below. Kai is surly and quick-tempered but will always choose to be around people, sometimes just sitting quietly.
Kai wasn’t good in school, and sometimes a bad boy. (I always think of him when I hear the joke: I made up a new word – plagiarism.) But (warning: dad pride around the corner) he scored in the top 5% in the military ASVAB test. Something’s going on under that bushy hair (though by now not bushy!).
On the other hand – Paul is a wordsmith, adept in math, interested in the Constitution…and gets lapped a few times in his two-mile track races. Kai was five push-ups away from a perfect army physical.
Strength and weakness, strength and weakness. Fallenness and dignity in each, popping out in different places. Humans being human beings.
So why was it harder to drop off Kai than to say farewell and good luck in your studies to Ben? I can guess at a few reasons: Kai is heading into a world unknown to him and me. Ben is at a Christian university; I can only hope that our Lord will lead Kai to cross paths with motivated believers.
And my emotions are probably stoked by all the war movies and books I’ve consumed –so there’s a don’t let them hurt my baby Kai blubber threatening to emerge from me in every moment.
Looking back, I’m glad for the church in which Kai was reared. Characters like Thorburn, Molitor, Mullen, Chandra, Lahoud, Felter have made their mark. I’m thankful for the many associations I have of Kai and EBC.
The following will sound something like Chicken Soup For The Soul lines: I don’t regret any of the times playing football with Kai and his brothers. Kai and Ben vs. Paul and Dad. Paul and I usually won.
And spending time and the little money I have to climb mountains with them? No regrets there either.
I’m at an interesting spot in my life: I go home and I’m tempted to be bored with or irritated by the kids. Read to them? What a chore.
At the same time I’m entering a realization: I wish I had read more to Ben and Kai, the ones who have left. I rue the books I started to read and didn’t finish (e.g. Phantom Tollbooth). I wish I could go back in time to do more mundane things and dumb stuff and nothing with them. Get down on the floor and play legos.
Now comes the urge to walk up to parents of young children and say something Our Town-ish: You cretins, you don’t know the precious thing you have going on right now. Go play with your kids. Hang out in their rooms. Take them to Starbucks.
Don’t buy them stuff; instead spend time with them. Put down the phone and do stuff with them. Teach them something, anything: how to plant, to paint, to read attentively.
I don’t regret disciplining Kai, including the occasional punishment directed at the gluteus maximus (and it is a maximus) of his corpus. What I do regret, though, is the times when I lost it and became angry at him. Pointless and staining the past.
This last year Kai and I met weekly and slowly talked our way through Proverbs 1-9. Actually, because his departure came early, we made it only halfway through chapter six. The idea to meet, and then the follow through, I receive as gifts from God.
Pardon me! This has all been rambling, not written finely, and a little self-indulgent, I know. I need to close. I’ll do so by quoting from the end of my letter to Kai when he left, in which I had reviewed the places and events of his young life :
When I survey the years, my heart is full of thankfulness to God for you. He has been the great constant in all your days. I wish I had better words to express to you how much I hope that you will, more and more, learn to listen to Him and entrust yourself to Him and thank Him and find rest in Him and see His beauty and go to Him (in word and prayer) when you are overwhelmed. Any good and enduring pleasure I’ve experienced in my life has been while conscious of my relationship to Him. I don’t say this as a pastor or even as your dad but as a human being.