Parenting Lessons from Saint Joseph: Showing Up

The Feast of Saint Joseph (March 19) quickly approaches and thus Eric recently began thirty days of prayer asking for Jesus’s adoptive father’s intercession and which will conclude on the day the church celebrates him, his life, and the sacrifices he made to care for and protect Mary and Jesus.

In the Bible, Joseph is a man of few words. Nay, no words, if I recall correctly. In one edition of the Magnificat magazine, the editors provided quotes from various saints for readers to use in prayer and reflection. Next to Saint Joseph, they wrote, simply, “respectful silence.”

Which is not to say that Saint Joseph does not pay a rather critical role in salvation history nor that we have nothing to learn from him. Quite the opposite. Listening to God requires silence, after all. And Joseph certainly listened to God, heeded his words, and took action. We see him visited in dreams, twice, by angels who instruct him to marry Mary and then, later, for him to take the mother and child into Egypt (from whence their enslaved ancestors had fled generations ago) to save them from King Herod’s jealousy and wrath. He does as he is instructed each time. Joseph is a man of action.

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This winter, Ms6yo Z started expressing a desire to take tap dancing lessons. I found a parent-child class at a studio in our area for beginners in her age group. The default mode for us with parent-child classes — and particularly those that involve art or movement — is that they are a “mom” thing. And that is where the “negotiations” began.

“I just thought that you would enjoy it because you like to dance,” Eric told me as we considered which parent would attend the class. And while I appreciate the sentiment, the man clearly confuses “enjoyment” with “innate gifts and talents” and “inborn, majestic sense of rhythm” and “natural strength, grace, and agility.” But I digress.

“I won’t be very good at it,” Eric lamented.

“Maybe not. You never know?” I told him.

“I will be really, really bad.” He said this in front of the kids at dinner one night, which was actually really, really good. Both because it was honest and truthful and vulnerable but also because both of us parents had been hearing quite a bit from the girls about how they didn’t want to do certain things (math, for example) because they were “bad” at it. It was getting to be a broken record.

And then Eric turned to Z and told her, “But I would like to spend time with you.”

And thus began their Saturday morning foray into the world of shiny patent leather, and shuffle-ball-changes taught to the beat of Ms Gigi’s music of choice: Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

And Eric was right. He is really bad at it. And Z tells him as much. “You’re too slow. You are so bad.”

“But maybe I will get better with practice,” he tells her.

“No, Dad, you’ll never get better.” It is as if she is challenging him to “give up” on tap-dancing, testing exactly how strong his commitment to her is to spend time doing something he will never be good at just to have time with her.

In other moments, she asks me to bring her to class next time. “Mostly everyone else comes with their moms,” she explains.

“One day, you will know how lucky you are to have a dad who wants to and can do these things with you. Maybe some of the other kids see your dad at the class and go home and ask their dads to come to class with them.” The truth is that I can see how much she already knows how lucky she is. I think partly she wants to re-assure me that she wants time with me too.

“You mean like how I saw other moms there and I’m asking you right now?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, this week there was another dad there.”

And the whole, “I don’t want to do this, I’m not good at it and never will be” attitude that had all of us battling over math and other subject areas?” Gone!

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In the meantime, Ms10yo A, has not been without her (completely normal and age appropriate) struggles. One weekday morning was particularly rough. I texted Eric, who was at work, that we were all having a tough time. I knew we would weather it just fine; I just kind of wanted to vent and complain to him, maybe even get a little perspective.

His response? Without hesitation, he texted: “I’ll come home for lunch.”

I know. God has written his blessings all over this whole thing. He blessed us with a job and a commute that allows for this and a dad and husband for whom “showing up” is the default way of thinking.

Eric has this image of “Second Dream of Joseph” by Daniel Matsui hanging next to our bed.

His lunch break that day wasn’t “easy” (there were lots of tears and perhaps a few ‘go aways’ as Ms10yo grappled with some overwhelming emotions) but it was cathartic and he and I were able to have a conversation about some of the issues she’d brought up and tell her how proud of her we are for being willing and able to bring her concerns to us, for battling through the barriers that we, as parents, sometimes (all the time?) put up against really hearing our kids. Emotions can be a scary thing for a kid (for adults too) and by coming home that day, Eric showed her that they aren’t so scary that we have to hide and run away from them, that she was important (more important than work even), and that he would be there for her, a constant in the whirling, changing sea of feelings that come with being a human being.

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