My son is three and a half years old and he’s going to preschool. I had mixed emotions about that, like all parents probably do when realizing that their child is going to school for the first time in their life. I’d like to take a moment of vulnerability right now to share what it was like for me as a father to process this new transition in life. I’m fully aware that everyone has different experiences and even look forward to that extra time away from their child/children. I was dreading it.
I admit that I wasn’t looking forward to the day that Mateo would be going to school. Let alone this early in his life. From the day he was born to his first day at school, I have known first hand every source of input into his life. Looking at his education outside of our family influence was daunting and intimidating to me. Fearful even. It was a fear that came out of cynicism that my little boy was going to be exposed to different ideologies and attitudes from teachers and other children that don’t align with our values as a family.
Warning: this is about to get gushy.
Before he was born, I would always speak encouragement, love and identity. I literally would bend down and speak to Tessa’s womb. I would say things like, “you’re welcome and we want you,” and ,”I’m your daddy and I love you.” This was more than an important practice for me, but I genuinely believe that his soul and spirit needed to have this type of verbal affirmation from his parents. We wanted our baby (we didn’t know the sex until he was born) to know that they are welcome and love and acceptance waits for them when they’re born.
And so, we kept that attitude and we are doing our best to continue to cultivate that in our family. I’m always expecting change and do my best to orientate my mind and heart for transitions. I know that I am responsible for my son’s mental, spiritual and character development. Putting him in school, is me giving that responsibility to someone else. At the same time, I do want my son to have his own experiences and growth in an academic community alongside his peers.
My fears were that he would pick up bad attitudes from other children, bad words, violent behaviors, etc. I think on some level, every parent can identify with those concerns to some degree. I’m telling you, any new words, thoughts, phrases, questions and behavior that Mateo displayed, Tessa and I could tell you exactly what show, movie, toy, child or activity he picked it up from and when. We didn’t have baby sitters while we worked. Tessa and I would schedule our days around taking turns watching our son. We’re in a unique and special working environment that allows us to do that, and we are so grateful for it!
Just recently Tessa had to leave to fly to Australia and Papua New Guinea for three weeks. She went to Australia to attend a special gathering focused on collaborating with international groups that are involved or would like to get involved with medical ships. She then flew to Papua New Guinea to meet with our team that we sent to work on our medical ship called the Pacific Link. I mention this because she was going to miss Mateo’s first day of school. Some of you can probably imagine how sad she was but she did get back in time to take him to his 2nd day of school.
I was relying on Tessa to prepare Mateo emotionally and physically for school. So to realize that it would just be me solo mode, it was stressing making me stress hard. And in a way I didn’t know how to handle my sadness, it’s weird to admit but I just didn’t want him to go to school and was thinking of excuses that could justify him NOT going to school. Not just missing the first day, but delaying him going for another year or so. I didn’t want other peoples kids messing up my kid. I have come to realize that this is a toxic thought bred from fear and control.
Now this is going to sound really strange but a thought came into my mind that was foreign with my current process of thinking. I became attentive to it right away and it was this, “I understand how you feel. Imagine my heart when Jesus went to earth. Look at all he went through and look at what came out of his life. Imagine what my heart was towards mankind as my son was beaten, tortured, mocked and hung on a cross.” Immediately I thought of Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” as he was hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34). I think Jesus sensed anger and sorrow, and said what he said because what Father wouldn’t be angry and sad? Please don’t turn this into a theological spin where I’m saying that God has limits or that He struggled with fear or that God couldn’t save Jesus from a horrible death… no, no, no– to me it was a simple message, that God, the Father, can relate to me as a father.
Being a loving and releasing father, to me, means that I'm making my heart vulnerable to the good and/or poor decisions that my child can make or other people can make that can effect my child, either loving or unloving. Strangely, this process led me to a place of comfort and dependency on the Holy Spirit in my son’s life more than ever. If Jesus suffered through diverse temptations (Heb. 4:15) and went through ugliness that can come out of mankind and the fallen nature of the world, and he had the Holy Spirit and counsel of his Father, then I can have hope for my son! By no means am I taking this as a message to abdicate my responsibilities as a father. If anything, I recognize the need to become a worthy teacher and counselor to my son, to emulate and nurture that kind of relationship, and when the time comes, he can see that I am someone he can reach out to and speak with when things in life weigh too heavy on his mind and heart.
This gave me a unique perspective to step back when I need to, so that Mateo can move forward and have opportunities to make his own choices amidst the multitude of possibilities. So yeah, I did have a few tears and talked about it with God a few days before taking Mateo to school. Just a good time confronting my own insecurities while Tessa was away. I’m sure this will be something that I will have to re-learn time and again through Mateo’s different stages of life (going to elementary school, high school, going on a field trip, getting a girlfriend, etc.). Overall, I learned how to put my trust in God in a new way and to see his Father Heart in an enriching lens.
By the way, when I took Mateo to school he was crying when I dropped him off and when I returned to pick him up he was laughing saying, “daddy, I had SO MUCH FUN!” He really did shout those last three words over and over again. Now, it’s only been two weeks and he doesn’t cry when I drop him off and even get’s excited when we talk about school. He talks about his play time and friends that he made with so much joy. For now, I'm deeply encouraged!
This was taken right when I came to pick him up after his first day of school and he shared with enthusiasm how much fun he had!