In May FDW is hosting a new series on stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us. Click here for more on the series and a list of the contributors. This post was written by friend and colleague Mark Koenig.
Every parent-child relationship is unique. As is every child-parent relationship. And every relationship between or among siblings. And every relationship within the web of family by choice and family by birth.
Affirming that, my words are descriptive, struggling to capture my unique reality. They neither prescribe nor proscribe. If they resonate with anyone else, provide insight or guidance, that’s grace.
I write as the father of two men. My older son is 32; my younger son 27. My sons, at this and every age. My children. Looking back across the years, I find a number of dimensions of meaning in my experience with my children.
Children mean individuality. My children differ from me, from Tricia, and from each other. I dressed each child in black and gold from birth, seeking to mold new members of Steelers Nation. They both chose to support the Cleveland Browns. And while I give them a hard time about that, I also admire them. Where it would have been easy to go along, they made their own choices.
My sons share a love for music: one played jazz; one classical. My tastes lean toward Dylan, Baez, and Clapton. One served five years on the college staff at Ghost Ranch Conference Center; one moved to Manhattan as soon as he could. Children defy our efforts to label and categorize. Each child is unique and precious.
Children mean change. The choice to have first one child and then a second shaped and set in motion a life-long series of choices. Children close some doors and open others.
Children mean challenge. Tears. Anger. Turmoil. It was all there. Some days I wondered what I was doing as a father. Most days I realized I was the parent without a clue. I muddled and worried and marveled as I watched my sons grow.
Children mean memories. I recall tumults and troubling times; arguments and fights. But I discover that time functions like a river passing over a bed of rock. It leaves polished memories in its wake:
- my older son going to the back of the sanctuary to bring the Do children, refugees recently arrived from Vietnam, forward for the children’s sermon;
- my older son driving his brother to the airport when Tricia was delayed and they feared the flight might be missed;
- my younger son spending weeks with my mother as she recovered from a broken hip;
- both sons making music at school and in church; and
- both sons participating in public witnesses for justice with memory piling on memory and transporting me back to the first time they went to public witnesses with me.
These and so many other jewels of memory I hoard. From time to time, I take them out in my mind and spirit and heart. And I smile. And I find moisture in my eyes.
Children mean community. I did not raise, I do not relate to, my sons in isolation. A grand communion of saints shared our lives. Tricia, to whom I am forever grateful. Grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Family members. Friends who listened to me and gave me advice, some of it sound, and reassured me I could father. Teachers. Doctors. My sons’ friends. Charley and Fred and pets unnamed. I make no effort to name everyone, for they are legion. It took, it takes, a metropolis to help me raise my sons. But three extraordinary women must be named. Helen Oshel. Marianne Vandetti. Merdine T. Morris. Each nurtured my sons in significant ways.
Children mean love. There were days I did not like my children or what they did. For the record those days have been gone for a number of years. I also have no doubt they knew days they did not like me.
But I have always loved them. I will always love them. I will love as well as I am able. I will love knowing I will fall short. I will love knowing that when I fall short, there is grace, and the chance to love again.
Sean and Eric – I give you thanks. Thanks for the privilege of being your father. Thanks for the joy of loving you. Now. And always.
Rev. W. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, wears an orange tie on an Orange Day to witness and end violence against women. He has 30 years of experience in ministry, serving congregations, the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, and the General Assembly Mission Council (now Presbyterian Mission Agency Board). He is a follower, seeker, walker, would-be photographer, writer of bad poetry, Steelers, Pirates and Penguins fan, high desert lover, currently at home in the Big Apple.