Apr 3, 2012

Guard Your Heart, My Child

...but oh, what beautiful hair I had
#Challenge: Having “romantic” relationships is a natural part of growing up.  And maybe just as important, is learning how to deal with breakups – the rejection, hurt feelings, and sadness that follows the demise of puppy love gone wrong.  For dads, we have a responsibility to help our sons and daughters keep these youthful relationships in perspective.  Not so easy a task.

#HeadGear: While in high school, I met a girl at church camp who lived in a distant town.  We fell in like with each other.  Over the following year, I managed to go see her a couple times.  I enjoyed her family and we always had a lot of fun.  On one occasion, this friend presented me with one of the most special gifts I’ve ever received – a song she’d written and dedicated to me.  She accompanied herself on guitar as she sang the hook line: “You do mean more to me than anything I know.”  Wow!  I was 16 and I had a song written by a girl just to honor her love for me.  Go ahead, top that!

Flash forward… A year later, another church camp, another girlfriend, another chapter in life’s long book.  I lost touch with my friend after that.  Fifteen years later, when my father was hospitalized after a terminal stroke, I found out that this dear old friend worked in the same hospital.  We talked briefly on the phone, but it was not a good time to catch up.  Through the wonders of the internet, I found her again a couple years ago – now almost 40 years later.  We chatted on the phone about fleeting memories.  I asked if she remembered the song she’d written for me.  “Oh gosh, Clark, I’ve written so many songs over the years, I didn’t even know I’d written one for you.  But I do remember your shampoo.  You used Prell.  I still think of you every time I smell Prell shampoo.”

Ever had your emotional fingers slammed in the car door of a long dead relationship?  OUCH!  All this time I thought I was “song boy”, but in reality I was more memorable to her for the flavor of shampoo I used.  THAT’S what I mean by keeping things in perspective.

#ManUp: Around that time in high school, I promulgated the Incontrovertible Rule of Relationshipsyou either break up or get married.  Take some time and think about it.  It’s completely true.  I tell that to my boys all the time, especially when they don’t want to hear it.  Then I tell them the IRR again just after they break up.  I’m a stinker like that.

But seriously, dads, your wife is going to bandage a wounded heart and assure your child that “there is someone better out there waiting for them”.  Maybe so, I don’t like predicting the future.  As dads, I think our job is to keep our children grounded.  They need to hear from us that non-marital relationships are just that, relationships with other people we’re not married to.  

Especially for teenagers, we need to encourage social dating (groups) and throw up as many road blocks to one-on-one dating as we can without setting something on fire.  I’ve watched too many pair-bonded BFs + GFs spend one or two of the most valuable years of their lives scrambled up in doe-eyed love with each other and miss out on the social development that is supposed to happen in the teen years.

I think dating-with-marriage-in-mind is great once people hit their mid-20s.  Until then, an awful lot of energy is spent investing in relationships that have a short shelf life.  Our teen children need to expand their horizons, not contract them.  Dads, we have to lead in that process.

IRR: You either break up or get married.

IRR (addendum): The shampoo you use is going to be a stronger memory than your “love”.

Clark H Smith