A Boy’s Heart

This weekend, Wendell Berry reminded me that health, wholeness, and holy all come from the same Indo-European root. We moderns have lost our sense of things because we’ve become fragmented, disconnected from our sensuous and enduring connection to land and people, to good work and good rest, to what it means to be human beings truly awake.

I see this temptation in my posture as a dad, in the ways I’m trying to pull together all these conflicting images and expectations of what a father’s to be, to do. If you pay attention to all the noise, there’s a lot of pressure out there. We have a fifth-grader and a third-grader, yet the talk’s already begun about college admissions and all the attending angst. There’s a steady stream of statistics touting proper nutrition, appropriate screen time, how much exercise, and which educational theory you should adamantly commit to (or violently denounce).

To make it more complex, I’m a Christian father. This means there is a particular set of values and hopes that I desire to pass to my sons, ways I want them to be formed as good men in this world. There are few things truer to my deep desires than the ways I want to nurture life and wonder and virtue in my boys. Yet if I see this primarily in terms of getting proper behavior from my sons, I am bound to fail. Appropriate behavior, by itself, may keep them out of jail, but it won’t tend to their soul.

I’m taking it as my fatherly joy to seriously tend to St. Paul’s word (tucked into his letter to the Colossians) for parents to watch their children attentively, lest their children lose heart. I want to do everything within my meager powers to help my boys not lose heart, to keep their imagination aroused, to help them believe in hope and possibility. To keep pointing them toward the God of kindness who dreamed them into existence and, I believe, must be giddy with each and every one of their accomplishments as well as their boyish mishaps. I want to silence the naysayers and the doom-givers, the ones who want to tell them they must shoot for the Ivy League or amass fortunes or even cure cancer, admirable as that would be.

Once I had to pay Wyatt $1 to get in trouble in school. He’d gone the whole year without a single reprimand. That couldn’t possibly be good for the soul. We’ve got to make mistakes if we’re ever to know that it’s simply alright. We lose heart because we grow weary and burdened – with expectations, with musts, with the tight cocoons we weave for ourselves with the self-absorption inherent with trying to get life right.

I want my boys to be healthy and whole. I want them to be truly holy. This means that this dad, with eyes afire, will be watching out for their hearts. Every day. For the rest of my life.

10 Replies to “A Boy’s Heart”

  1. Great post, Winn. My sons are are 17 and 15 and I often think back to how I would now shape their hearts for manhood. I love your statement “Appropriate behavior, by itself, may keep them out of jail, but it won’t tend to their soul.” I think that too much of my early training had this focus, perhaps that was just what had been asked of me, and so it was the “default” setting of my parenting plan. Age and mistakes wisens. I cheer you for paying Wyatt to get into some trouble. Deepening their soul is harder but such a greater gift.

    Would love for you to explore in a future post ideas (or perhaps, approaches) for doing so?


    1. Jim, I’m betting your wide love makes up for whatever you’d like to do over. I keep finding mercy in the reminder that love truly covers a multitude of sins. I don’t know if I have much more to say about it right now, but if something kindles, I’ll certainly let it loose.

  2. Lovely. I’ve thought similarly about my daughter who’s following in her poor mother’s prim and proper footsteps. My son actually said one day that he’s never seen me make a mistake and that, wow, that made me realize I needed to be a lot more open and clear about my failings and short-comings – my humanity – as a parent. There’s fellowship in our failings, especially when we stand together in the light of the cross. Thanks.

    1. well, sounds like you might have an excuse for a grand ol’ blowout sometime soon. Here’s to blowouts – and then to reveling in them.

  3. Great post -I can relate to your feelings as a Christian dad – loved the last few lines about watching out for their hearts. With iPhones, twitter, instagram, there are plenty of other influences competing for their hearts…!

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