Because they are my very soul

O sovereign and eternal Father, I recommend to You my beloved children, whom You have confided to me; I beg of You to visit them with Your grace, to make them live as dead to the world that they may enjoy clear and perfect light, and be united among themselves with the sweet bond of charity. I pray You, O eternal Father, that none of them be taken from my hands, and I beg You to pardon us all our offenses. I offer and commend to You my beloved children, because they are my very soul. – St. Catherine of Siena

*****

Last week we completed part one of a four-part process of renovation in our family room upstairs. Actually it’s more of a traditional living room as the family room is in the basement where I completed a huge renovation six years ago that included all new framing, wiring, lighting, walls and paint. We had planned on getting to the upstairs portion a few years earlier but events such as our beautiful daughter occurred, as well as tuition payments for Catholic schools and beginning this year a third used car and teenager insurance premiums.

The last old window to be replaced in our home was the large picture window facing the backyard. Last week it was torn out, removed along with two rows of brick, and replaced by a beautiful (and sturdy) sliding glass door and sidelight. Along with it came the obligatory electrical work to provide a new outside light, outlet box, and a switch and outlet indoors. After it was installed my wife spent the weekend staining and varnishing the inside portion of this new door and the trim and it looks beautiful. Only now we have a five foot drop off just outside our living room. (Watch that first step. It’s a doozy!)

Did I mention that Phase Two is a deck tentatively planned for next spring/summer? Or that Phases One and Two needed (or were heavily desired) to be done before May 2014 when we will be hosting a graduation party for our oldest son?

(Let that sink in Jeff. May 2014. Take another Tums.)

Phases Three and Four involve interior work that can occur post-graduation such as refinishing wooden floors currently hidden by carpeting and floor to ceiling bookcases (naturally). I wish they were able to be completed beforehand, but time is against me.

During the last week in the midst of all this planning and construction my wife and I have come hard and fast to the realization that our first child’s high school graduation really is thisclose. Many peers have advised us over the years about how quickly those four years of high school go. They weren’t kidding.

Like all teenagers ours was no less prone to the angst and anxiety that can come along. We have been blessed, fortunate that things have worked themselves out along the way. During one particularly rough stretch a year ago however it looked dark, as it always does when you’re in the thick of things, and I tried a different approach than my normal “you’ll do it my way, right now, and like it” tendency. Instead of issuing ultimatums or having yet another long “father-to-son” (or “father-at­-son” as he calls them) talk, I wrote the following lines on a lined piece of tablet paper and gave it to my son. He had gotten off the path to responsible manhood and off into the weeds. I said nothing other than that I wanted him to look up the following ten verses and think long and hard about them. I do not remember the source of this “Code of Conduct”, and for that I apologize.

Now I knew going in that this approach had a chance of working because of two things. One, my son aspires to be a U.S. Marine. He values honor and a code to live by. Two, he spends a lot of time in thought. So with those two things in mind I figured this exercise had a chance.

Man’s Code of Conduct

– A will to obey (God’s will)
– A work to do
– A woman to love

  1. Loyalty (Hosea 6:6)
  2. Servant – leadership (Matthew 20:26-27)
  3. Kindness (Proverbs 19:22)
  4. Humility (Philippians 2:3)
  5. Purity (1 Timothy 4:12)
  6. Honesty (Ephesians 4:25)
  7. Self-discipline (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
  8. Excellence (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  9. Integrity (Proverbs 10:9)
  10. Perseverance (Galatians 6:9)

Fast forward nine months. I had forgotten all about this sheet of paper to be honest. I had told him I would not be following up with him, but simply suggested he fill it out. Last week while letting the electricians into his room below the living room where the new electrical line was being fed I found this unfolded sheet of paper on his window-side night stand. In his own handwriting and in a different color of ink he had answered all ten questions and even expanded on them a little in his own words. I encourage you to do the same or use this template for a young man you may know.

About three weeks ago he reluctantly went on a three-day TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat that high school juniors and seniors are eligible to attend. Actually, it wasn’t just reluctantly. Much protest was mustered, but he went. Prayers were said. And prayers were answered. I don’t know if the corner has been turned for good or not and with teenagers I’m not stupid enough to assume that it was. Those are deep, dark and murky waters our teenagers are navigating today that challenge them and those of us to whom they rely upon. But we have noticed a welcome change in him and his demeanor. Prayers continue.

One other item I would present to a fellow parent is 5 Ways Parents Can Transform Their Wild Boys into Mature Men. This one I’m definitely saving for Son No. 2!

5. Replace His Sense of Entitlement with an Opportunity
4. Give Him a Code of Honor to Live By. (see Man’s Code of Conduct above)
3. Show Him the Power of Bridled Strength
2. Teach Him to Reject a Disposable World
1. Expect Him to “Pull His Own Weight”

I would also suggest getting your son The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood by William J. Bennett. When it was published in October 2011 I purchased a copy for my oldest and he has devoured it and returns to it often. So much so that I have finally decided to give up waiting for him to loan it to me and am going to be purchasing my own copy soon. It is divided into six sections:

Using profiles, stories, letters, poems, essays, historical vignettes, and myths to bring his subject to life, The Book of Man defines what a man should be, how he should live, and to what he should aspire in several key areas of life: war, work, leisure, and more.

Another book that came out in October 2011 along the same lines is Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues by Brett & Kate McKay, they of the popular website Art of Manliness. I do own this book and would also recommend it, though I appreciate Bennett’s willingness to acknowledge God and faith whereas those subjects are largely absent from the McKay book.

So those are tools I’m using for my sons. As for my daughter I haven’t quite figured it out yet and probably won’t until she’s finished training me.

To go with this post I decided to add the prayer by St. Catherine at the beginning that I found a few days ago during my daily reading of Divine Intimacy. I transcribed it into my journal for future reference. I am also embedding a video below that I came across via Steve McDonald at Backpackology. It is a terrific ode to the open road and look at the wide world, and humanity, around us all.

I hope my children are able to travel if they so choose, and if the world can hold itself together long enough for them to be safe while doing so. I envy them that opportunity.

I had always wanted to travel. I still do, but I’ve committed myself to a higher calling that means I sacrifice my aspirations for travel. While I’ve been blessed to visit over 35 states I hate to count too many of them as airports don’t count and many of them were trips from an airport to a conference room, with a stay at a hotel in between. I still dream of getting in a car and hitting an open road with good music and an open highway before me. And then of course there’s Europe. Perhaps one or more of my children will accompany me on the Camino de Santiago. I would love that.

While my middle son is more open around people in general (our daughter will talk anyone’s ear off), my oldest is a little more hesitant to be open with strangers, much as I was prior to college. It is my hope that as they get older they learn as I have that one of the greatest joys in this life are the unexpected surprises that are other people. True, you never know what you’re going to get. But just as it is with presents at Christmas you never know until you unwrap the pretty paper and discover the gift within.

Love is not meant to be selfishly hoarded or kept to oneself. Love is meant to be given away and the miracle of love is that it is magnified when shared. Look no further than the gift all of humanity received two thousand years ago, delivered into a stable in a wrapping paper of swaddling clothes.We have slowly unwrapped the gift of our oldest son that we received from God almost seventeen years ago. With each layer of wrapping paper we remove he ceases to be our own gift and is transformed into our gift to the world. Love is shared. Love is multiplied.

We’ll have two more to give away soon after. But not yet.

Not yet.

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