This is an excerpt from Parenting with Heart: How Imperfect Parents Can Raise Resilient, Loving, and Wise-Hearted Kids, by Stephen James and Chip Dodd
One of my sons (Chip’s) and I went on a fly-fishing trip a few years ago. He was out of college, gone from our home, and moving out into the bigger world. Near the lodge where we were staying was a great place to sit and watch the stars come out in the big sky of the West. We sat talking and watching the moon rise and the stars come out. I have always loved him, and he cannot stop loving me, as is the nature of children with their parents. That is what makes the wounds so deep and love’s possibilities so rich. We talked about the day, the horses we rode, and the fish we didn’t catch.
After a while, he said, “Dad, I used to be scared of you, but I’m not anymore.” That courageous comment led to deeper and yet sadder talk about how I was harder than I should have been and more demanding than I ever needed to be. When he was growing up, I communicated expectations that made him feel he had to perform to receive acceptance. I remember my heart sinking and sadness filling me up. While he was referring to me no longer being like that, I recalled exactly what he meant. The last thing I would ever wish was for my own son, one of the greatest loves of my life, to feel he had to seek my approval and fear that it would not be his. But that is what happened.
I told him how sorry I was. He told me more, and I had to see more. We talked until the moon was far above us. What courage he had, and what trust he had in the possibilities of restoration and in my ability to respond with humility. I offered no excuses, no justifications. He knew my sorrow wouldn’t become something he would have to carry, and he trusted me to show up in clumsiness and admit my failure. He knew that we are works in progress, and he trusted me to live this out, or he wouldn’t have risked such vulnerability. While I regretted harming his heart, I also trusted that forgiveness and mercy had more power in love than any performance I could ever script to make things okay.
Now we continue to talk as men who love each other, one a son, one a father, but more so two people who are clumsily approaching life as works in progress. He knew more than I did, and he was willing to share his heart. Good things happen to people who are known. I now have more of my son, and he has more of me. I can look into the face of love come what may. He showed me that truth.
How we handle conflict and what we do to repair relationship are essential to relational intimacy. Being able to tolerate another person’s pain, anger, or fear—and being able to tolerate our own—actually makes the relationship closer and stronger than if there was never harm in the first place. This is the good news. The fact that children and parents are resilient in relationship is one of the greatest gifts of mercy God has given us.
Chip Dodd, PhD, is a teacher, trainer, author, and counselor, who has been working in the field of recovery and redemption for over 30 years. With his clinical experience, love of storytelling, and passion for living fully, Chip developed a way of seeing and expressing one’s internal experience called the Spiritual Root System™. To read more from Chip, visit his blog, or check out his books.