It was the Friday before Memorial Day. As we had in years prior, my mom, stepdad, and I planned a weekend of camping and fishing along the beautiful Susquehanna River. Mom and I decided to start the weekend early, just the two of us.
That time of year can be hit or miss for the smallmouth bass and walleye we typically fished. Mom and I decided the day together on the water was worth the shot, whether we caught anything or not.
Growing up, my mom was not very patient when it came to my fishing abilities. Putting myself in my mom’s shoes today, I can see why.
When I was eleven, I had a lure on my line with a triple hook, like the one pictured. They can be nasty on human flesh if not handled carefully. Imagine eleven-year-old Josh, drawing his fishing rod over his shoulder, ready to cast into the water with everything his scrawny arms could muster. That’s when I heard my mom scream, “Josh! Don’t cast! Watch what you’re doing!”
As I looked back, that triple hook was literally caught in my stepdad’s nose. Having nearly performed reconstructive facial surgery on him that day, I can understand my mom’s suspicion of me with a fishing rod.
That same suspicion happened to find itself in much of what I did growing up. If mom erred, it was on the side of truth, not grace. She wasn’t a helicopter parent who coddled me. When I messed up, she didn’t rescue me. I felt consequences.
Her truth over grace approach, whether she realized it or not, became my moral compass. I think I was more concerned about what she thought of my actions than I was about what God thought of them.
Though this approach caused distance in our relationship for a period of time, especially through my teen years, that very Friday before Memorial Day is when I finally began to understand it all.
Sitting on the river, we caught more walleye in that day than in any before or after it. In fact, we caught nothing else the rest of the weekend.
Those fish became the catalyst for laughter, fun, and healing conversation that now marks the eve before that holiday weekend as one I’ll always celebrate. I sensed my mom’s pride in who I was more than ever that day.
While we were catching fish, grace was catching up.
From that day on, mother-son dates became a staple of our relationship. True to my mom, every one of them was centered on adventure. Rivers, mountains, and outdoor fires served as the backdrop to those memories.
Now that I have my own kids, I use the Friday before Memorial Day to ask myself three questions as I reflect on how well I’m passing along the lessons my mom taught me to her grandchildren.
1. Do my kids know I believe in them?
I’m not sure mom consciously tried, but her truth approach to parenting eventually taught me that I had what it took to make it on my own. The more adventures we had, the more I knew she believed in me.
2. Do my kids value adventure?
My greatest memories with my mom stem from all of the subsequent mother-son holidays we celebrated. Christi and I already have an ongoing bucket list of adventures we want to take our kids on. One adventure I can’t wait for once she’s old enough is to turn that specific day into our own daddy-daughter celebration day.
3. Do I allow my kids to fail?
My mom, though rescuing me from throwing my stepdad’s face into the drink that day, didn’t coddle me. She made sure I felt the natural consequences of my behaviors. I’m grateful for that too. In doing so, she taught me the realities of the world we live in. As a dad who can err too much on the side of grace, this is a question I ask of myself quite often.
Mom, thank you for challenging me enough to allow me to fail, but for believing in me enough to help me succeed. Words cannot express my gratitude.
In honor of my mom, what’s your Friday before Memorial Day?
To learn more about the balance of grace and truth, and having fun with your kids, check out Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well.