shifting gears

by Matt Mooney

I often look at my backside in the mirror.

I move quickly past the place that you imagined I was seeking and find the splotchy spot just above the bend of my right leg.  It’s my biggest scar- remnants of days I spent riding my Honda 80 dirt bike for hours on end along the hill behind my house where within a 3-minute ride Arkansas turned into Oklahoma.

Often times I would lug the unstarted motorcycle to the top of a certain steep drop off in order to mount the red machine, point it downhill and coast until max speed; whereby, at just the right time, I would raise my right foot abruptly- shifting the bike into gear- though the torque required let me know it was not designed for this behavior.

When a motorcycle is thrown into gear at a screaming velocity, the engine starts.  Of course, the motorcycle would willingly start up using the provided kickstart created just for such an occasion.  But to a 10 year old boy, the velocity start was much more dramatic- especially if anyone was around to drop jaw at my show of prowess.

honda 80

And just like that, around this house, fatherhood, for me, has kicked into a new gear- one I had always imagined fatherhood would be like.

But it wasn’t.
Not at birth.
Not at toddler.
Not at whatever you call them just after toddlers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have loved every step along the way of my kid’s lives (well, except for spit-up.  I never managed to accept that….oh and not sleeping.  The anger of not sleeping…okay, I have loved most of it).

But, for us, my role as dad along these stages was mostly to problem solve, cheer lead and play dumb games I made up- often involving me taking my shirt off.  Ginny just owned this stage and I often have compared parenting alongside of her as playing basketball with Michael Jordan; there’s awe and appreciation but not a big feeling of contribution.

Looking back, I thought that upon catching them at their exit from the womb, I would be passing on life lessons and reasons not to smoke.  But, at first, I have learned you’re really just there to help with toileting.  Suddenly, it’s velocity start time around here, we’re switching from gravity to engine and now I see that I am not even ready to be doing what I‘ve been waiting on for so long.

On a recent Saturday, we suited Hazel up for her 1st basketball game, then capped off the afternoon reading multiple chapters of The Chronicles of Narnia.  I handed out dribbling pointers and waxed eloquently for too long about how Aslan is like Jesus.  Ginny laughed at me when I hugged her and reported, “this is what I always thought parenting was like.”  I was not laughing.

But it has not taken much time in this phase to recognize a new phase of helplessness.  I want so much for my kids.  I tend to try to convey it all at once, fearing I am going to leave something out or get it wrong or leave them with the impression that God is something He is totally not.  However, in my healthier moments I see my hopes for my children as more of a long ride over the hill than a quickstart dive off the cliff.

It will not be what I say, but who I am.
Not what I demand, but how I love.
Not what I make clear with words, but what I show through my life.

See, as they age, one thing is becoming real clear.  These kids see me up close- right through my BS, and are always comparing what I say to who I am.  This simultaneously gives me great hope while inducing a bone-rattling holy fear as well.

I see the scar that my bike left upon me and hope that in the long ride with my favorite people, I leave them with nothing of the sort.

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