He doesn’t remember saying it, but I remember. Moms do not forget it when their sons utter wisdom.
We were talking about education, which not that long ago would have been rather remarkable.
He was not a good student. He wouldn’t mind me saying that now. In fact, he regrets his so-so academic performance. And he knows how frustrated we got with him at times. He’s not dumb, far from it, and we always knew that. Hence, the frustration. The anger that we spent money we didn’t have on education he didn’t care about. Well, he cared, just not enough to sustain the efforts that care produced.
In this he was a typical boy. A careless student who saw absolutely no value in the subjects taught to him by teachers who, for the most part, loved him with commendable patience. And he saw no value in the grades those teachers assigned. He felt trapped in the classroom. He preferred the outdoors, the playing field, and the cul-de-sac. He had a sort of honor in those places that gave us hope that he would do life honorably everywhere else someday.
Moms do not forget it when their sons utter wisdom.
Now he is a dad of his own sons. I assume he thinks from time to time about our parenting, surely lining up two columns in his mind, the ways he wants to be like us and the ways he doesn’t. It’s a frightening turn of events when your kids are new to a task you never mastered, when you know they are evaluating your often regrettable performance.
He was always driven. Driven to play hard, to win games, to overcome obstacles. So I wondered if he felt under-served by parents who never could quite exact good grades or study habits out of him. Does he now think of his academic failures as our parental failures? He has every right. He was the third. I could easily chalk up those times when we “did all we could” with little success to laziness. Ours and his.
Our conversation about school turned to a discussion about his dad. He mentioned that many of his friends live with a ubiquitous anxiety, leftover in part from the pressure they felt from their fathers to achieve, to score high, to matriculate impressively. And then he said it—”Dad gave me grace, and grace gave me courage.”
Courage to cast off the mantle of academic shame. Courage to live well, both then and now. Courage to become the excellent student he is today.
“Dad gave me grace, and grace gave me courage.”
But I couldn’t help but think about the years of mom’s groups where we would agonize together over failing grades at mid-term and boys who couldn’t or, more maddeningly, wouldn’t study. I remembered charts and contracts and consequences that made us feel like we were doing something. And I thought about the ugly scenes we had with our boys in our home over these same issues. And the ugly scenes between Bill and me about the crack-down I thought was appropriate, and he thought was unnecessary.
And I, who have often wondered how we all got out of those years alive, realized that my son had just given me the answer: grace.
At some point, we have all received it. And when we don’t deserve it—it moves us. It changes us, and we always remember the moment it was given. It’s usually not our first instinct, but why not take this opportunity to instill courage within your failing, fumbling, falling child?
Just grace. It will be enough, I promise.