One of the things I have always appreciated about my parents is the humility with which they receive correction, especially when that correction comes from their kids.
Weeks ago, my dad found out about Elijah’s eyesight grade. When I told him that Elijah’s grade was 400/425, one of his first comments was, “Well, you are partly to blame. It is your fault for not feeding him the right food. You have to be very intentional about what you let him eat.I see the way he eats his food and he is lacking vegetables…” Here I was, hoping for some word of encouragement, but he was giving me a lecture. And he doesn’t see what Elijah eats every single meal so it wasn’t even an accurate observation on his part.
I was hurt when he said this and I retaliated with a joke. “Actually the doctor said it’s genetic and I don’t wear glasses, so it might be from you, dad.” We both laughed when I said this, but I didn’t tell him right there and then that his comment made me feel like a failure. I know my dad. He is a teacher at heart and his intentions are usually good. But there are moments when he errs on his style of correction.
Days after, I visited him in his home and went up to his study room to talk to him. He was seated at his desk studying and reading his Bible. “Dad, can I tell you something?” My dad stopped what he was doing. I said, “I felt hurt when I shared with you about Elijah’s eyes and you corrected me right away. I know you meant well because I know you, but I was surprised that your first instinct was to say that I didn’t feed him the right food.”
At this point, my dad turned his chair around and gave me his full attention. “Really?” He asked with utmost sincerity and concern. When I expounded on how it made me feel, he asked for my forgiveness and spoke kindly and gently to me.
The conversation continued and I added, “You know I was just wondering if you do that with other people. Like people who work for you. Maybe they might feel de-motivated, especially if they look up to you.” He had this thoughtful look on his face, and he said, “You are right. I can improve in this area. I need to be more encouraging and positive. Other people have told me that.” There was no defensiveness on his part. He really meant what he said.
As far back as I can remember, dad has been the kind of father who listens to the correction of his children. My dad instituted this kind of culture in our home. We were allowed to speak up and express our feelings, concerns, and share how our parents could improve. In fact, both my parents would ask us regularly, “Is there any way we can improve?” Then they would listen intently and openly to our suggestions, take them to heart, and really make the effort to change.
Well today, I visited my dad again. I went up to his study room (his usual hang-out) and I had a long chat with him about the message he was preparing for Sunday worship. He gave me a sneak peak into the topic he was going to preach on. We exchanged ideas and dialogued about possible illustrations and bible passages.
At some point, I interjected and said, “Dad, I just want you to know that you were a good example to me when you listened to what I said about Elijah’s eyesight…about my getting hurt and all. It meant a lot that you were humble enough to say sorry. I also wanted to tell you that I noticed you have been trying to be really positive with the men you are mentoring. I saw you go out of your way to encourage a couple of them the other day at church and I have been very blessed by your efforts to change.”
“Oh really?” He replied with his big smile. He thanked me for the encouragement and went on to talk about how he really needed to grow in the area of affirming, fathering, and mentoring the men he disciples. I lingered in his study room for a wee bit longer as he finished discussing the rest of his outline for Sunday’s message.
I enjoyed visiting with my dad. I always do, and so do my siblings and our spouses. My parents established a family culture that has been about open communication, unconditional acceptance and love, peace among family members, predictable joyfulness, as well as mutual respect and honor.
By saying these things I don’t want to make it seem like I am elevating my parents or giving them all the credit. The real secret to this family culture has been Jesus Christ. My parents have walked with him, followed him, and lived by his principles which made our home a wonderful place to always come back to, even when we were grown up. My dad has this joke that he can’t “get rid of us.”
Well, Edric and I are trying to develop this same culture in our home. Just two days ago, Elijah corrected me for having a bad attitude about my cell phone. I had tossed it on the car seat in an exasperated way when it didn’t turn on. When we got back to the house, Elijah confronted me and said, “You had a bad attitude, mom.” He did not say it disrespectfully, he was merely pointing out an obvious reality. For a split second I was tempted to defend myself, but somewhere in my subconscious I must have remembered my dad’s example of humbly receiving correction and I responded by saying, “You are right, hon. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have behaved that way. Will you forgive me?” Elijah readily forgave me, hugged me, and then went to go play with his brothers.
Family culture matters. Can our children correct us? Are we willing to change when they do? Do we say sorry when we are wrong? Is forgiveness readily given? Is conflict resolved quickly and in a way that honors God? Do our children feel important, loved and treasured? Are family members joyful and at peace?
Maybe it is just a theory but if families tried being like this, I really think grown up children and their spouses would look forward to visiting mom and dad more often! They would want to keep coming back!