By David Tulis
God has blessed my wife, Jeannette, and me with four children, the last of which is 12. He was born “a late surprise,” arriving in the depth of a humiliation imposed on me by state government in a tussle over driver license application forms and social security numbers.
He’s just about to start home education lessons, probably this week. All his life he’s been taught apart from the state factory school and mass “educational” systems.
My goals for the lad are like those I had for his brothers and sister. The eldest sibling is a young woman enjoying an art residency in the Netherlands that ends this week. The other two are brothers, one a teenage Marine recruit at Parris Island, S.C., the other a local university student specializing in computer network security.
It occurs to me that I have lost my personal connection with the boy at home. I want to figure out why, and how to restore it. I have been doing my dad tasks without considering the personal nature of fathering. This loss of connection is perhaps enhanced by what Jeannette identifies as my idealism. She made these points in a conversation this Lord’s Day morning before the sun had even suggested itself through a treeline east of our hilltop residence.
My great hopes and my failing
To get to my problem as a dad, it may be helpful to consider my idealism. I desire my children to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds, and their neighbors as themselves. I want them to exalt their creator, know His ways, favor His truths, be willing to suffer for His people and for God’s glory. To this end I am a practicing Christian. We worship at God’s house on the first day of the week. I have catechized the children and had the youngest memorize Christ’s parables. Among the four, memory work has been routine, but uneven.
Perhaps most consistently I lead family worship every day. All their lives the children have heard their dad read scripture, ask a question or two, make a brief analysis, and direct everyone present in prayer.
Lessons at home bring innumerable spiritual advantages to children. Education is a religious enterprise because it is always about causes and effects. If God is creator, He is the first cause, and every area of study, whether science or history, should account for God’s work among mankind and among the aspects of physical creation.
The ideal is that my children become free people, true Christians, entrepreneurs, skeptics of popular opinion and establishment practice and people who will alter the currents of culture (or have children who do). I have reared my four to defy the common way and to build for themselves lives that reflect God’s truth in their areas of labor and influence. I desire them to defy convention, as I have, to be within the system of commerce and government in this American state, and yet to be apart from it — to be in it, but not of it. I worked 24 years as an editor at a daily newspaper, utterly conventional in my daily output for its masters, but I was also investigating legal liberty and was involved in litigation with state government that changed a state law in favor of religious liberty. Outward compliance, in a sense, with quiet counter-revolutionary activity in the courts. As God ordained, I lost my case in court, but won the war and glorified and enjoyed God.
I want to rear my children so that they love and respect their parents, are friends with their mother and me, and that they be willing to care for parents when there is but a decrepit survivor. I would like at least one of my children to take an interest in my life of journalism and be an heir in a media property in which he has learned that trade.
My work as editor and talk show host fill the cup of my idealism to overflowing. Local economy and free markets are the lens through which I report on the world, and by which I yearn for a more prosperous and freer Chattanooga. My job as editor and writer, and my calling as espousing God’s goodness and liberty coincide. Most gratifying.
So, where is the problem?
My fault is that I have not been connecting to the boy at home. I grind out family worship. I grind out French lessons. I pursue a review of the Westminster shorter catechism whose 107 questions he had memorized (but has forgotten). I grind out attendance at Trail Life USA meetings and events, and dutifully play the part of the dad. I make a comment on a headline at table, and grind out an analysis as part of light conversation.
For their whole lives my children have heard my arguments about the sovereignty of God, sovereign grace, “free government,” constitutional law, free markets, the war of the state against family and church. They have heard about honest money, free enterprise, the need to resist and defy lawless magistrates and kings and to defy temptations of the flesh.
But do they believe these arguments and suggestions?
Does the boy at home understand what a treasure he has in his dad, who has explained to him many of the ideas developed in your presence as reader? How many boys have the benefit of a dad who can explain why there is no compulsory driver license statute or no liability for anyone to file any form that effectively waives constitutional rights?
Well, perhaps there be few boys with the advantage of my son, the 12-year-old.
But it doesn’t matter how right I am, how wise I may be to a reader or a radio show listener, if I don’t impart grains of truth and the wisdom of my struggles.
The boy turns off my arguments before I have reached the first semicolon because, well, “That’s just dad doing show prep on me. Dad thinks he’s on the radio.”
Jeannette says I cannot win my children to my arguments for liberty and prosperity if I don’t first win my children to myself.
Somehow, with God’s grace, I must connect with the boy. It’s giving time, quality time. But more importantly, it’s giving quantity time. It’s being unguarded, open, ready, and being able to just sit quietly without having to fill the time with a useful discussion about stock market collapses, paper money or the role of plunge protection teams serving “the good people” and their cronies. I have to realize that sometimes ordinary life has its place, and there’s no high ideal in view, no hot topic at hand. It’s not needful for me to give a lecture on why profit is necessary in the free market or why Alexander Hamilton, the man on the face of F$10 bill whose name adorns the Tennessee county of my birth, had a misplaced faith in man and was wrong about the federal constitution.
Maybe I should listen more and teach less. Maybe I should ask questions more and make fewer statements. Perhaps I need to appear less that I have answers, and more than I have questions and doubts about how the real world works. This way, the boy soon to turn 13 will have a dad with whom he can relate, and who is more like him.