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The Brevity of Life, and Communicating Value December 23, 2005

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Driving, Family, Love, Parenting/Children.
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Last Sunday evening, my oldest son was in a car wreck. Just moments before, he had called me to ask about something else, and when the phone rang again, I was frustrated from having trekked back to the other side of the house already.

“Dad, we’ve been in a car wreck.”

The fact that he was speaking, and that there weren’t people screaming in the background were both good signs. His tone was even and calm, but this doesn’t mean anything. My oldest is the epitome of calm, and somehow can keep things together when he’s surrounded by disaster. Fortunately, the first words out of my mouth (if I remember correctly) were the right ones:

“Is anyone hurt?”

The Right Words

I say that these are the right words, because years ago, I heard the wrong ones from my own father. When I was 19, I totaled my ’73 Z28 while trying to avoid a car that swerved into my lane. When I told my dad I’d been in a wreck, his first words were, “You just can’t keep them out of the ditches, can you?”

To be fair, I had already been in a couple of fender-benders in my “extensive” three-year driving history, so I can imagine Dad’s frustration at the news. Even so, it stung badly enough that I sarcastically responded with, “No, I guess not. By the way, nobody was hurt.”

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in my son’s accident either. I asked about the car, but then reiterated the question about injuries. Feeling satisfied that he wasn’t trying to hide worse news from me, I got in my car to investigage.

When I arrived, I had the odd experience of meeting my son’s girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Not exactly how we would have chosen to meet. I knew them to be Indianapolis Colts fans, and having just sufferred the first loss of an otherwise perfect season, I opened with, “Hi. Nice to meet both of you. Sorry about the Colts.”

They seemed amazed that I wasn’t angry, and that my concern for the car seemed to take a backseat to even the results of the day’s football game. The truth was, I was very upset about the car, but expressing my anger wasn’t going to do anything positive, and might very well send a message to my son that I valued the car more than him. There aren’t many days that I feel successful as a parent, but at that moment, I felt successful on several levels.

Success in Parenting

First, my son had wisely chosen to wear his seatbelt, and his girlfriend was wearing hers too. He made a wise choice in that regard, but it’s as much about developing a good habit as anything. Likewise, she made a good choice, and that confirms my very high opinion of her (and of my son for choosing to date her).

Second, I had effectively used those milliseconds between hearing about the wreck and uttering my first words, and had decided to make my first words ones that communicated to my son that he was more important to me than the car. That may seem obvious, but how many times do we, as parents, inadvertently communicate something else?

What is your Child’s Worth?

Dr. Gary Smalley, a fairly popular Christian speaker and writer, said once that the most important thing a parent can do for a child is communicate value and worth. He posits that we do the opposite in many different ways, but most obviously by the way we speak to our children, and then turn around and emphasize the value of things. We intend to teach them to treat material things with a certain level of care and respect, but when we use harsh tones all the time, ridicule them, embarrass them in front of their friends, and don’t actively communicate how important they are to us, we undermine the parenting process, and undervalue them.

Lastly, and most importantly, I felt successful because I still had my son. Later, as we sat around watching “Forrest Gump” on cable, I reminded him how glad I was that nobody was injured. “After all, instead of enjoying a movie, we could be sitting in an Emergency Room somewhere… or worse.”

The car appears to be totalled. The son… well, the son is just fine.

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