“Daddy, is it okay if I lose?”
The question hit me like the initial shock of an ice bath. My initial reaction was to laugh, albeit uncomfortably, say “No,” and launch into the reasons why we always strive to win in everything we do. But then, I looked at him. I looked into his eyes and realized a bigger, much more important, question was being asked, he just didn’t know how to ask it. Really, what he wanted to ask was this,
Daddy, will you still love me even if I fail?”
In the split seconds that followed his initial question, this realization hit me like a scalding hot bucket of water right after that initial ice bath (see what I did there? Now I’m cold, hot, wet, and trying to synthesize a coherent philosophical response in toddler-speak….all in my mind).
Needless to say, I stumbled over my words for a few minutes while my wife sat chuckling at the table nearby. I did my best to come up with an appropriate and meaningful response, but the interaction has stuck with me. Luckily, I’ve had additional chances to redeem myself since the question is asked before every game. Every. Single. Game. Toddlers are nothing, if not persistent with their questions. Like little lawyers with their piercing eyes looking deeply into your soul in search of the ultimate truth, but I digress.
Now I’ve had some time to process this question, and here’s where I am. I’m realizing that my boys currently have one goal, to be like or better than me. That understanding now shapes everything I do, and every goal I pursue. Because, in a general sense, my goals become their goals. And goals give us a target for which to aim. Without a target, it’s pretty difficult and meaningless to take a shot…at anything.
My goal, then, is to pursue excellence in everything I do, beginning with my relationship with God, then my wife, then my boys. But goals without detailed action steps are nearly impossible to attain. Creating habits out of the behaviors that help us achieve goals, is the goal, right? Or, better said by Pastor Levi Lusko, “The process is the product.” So, what does that look like on a practical and actionable level? Well, that means I need to spend meaningful time in prayer, scripture reading, and reflection daily. I need to spend time in meaningful conversation, and physical contact (her two love languages) with my wife daily. Don’t get all pervy on me. That doesn’t mean sex. It means being proactive in the little things like a hug, kiss, or foot rubs. However, I’m pretty sure foot rubs are everyone’s love language. Anyhow, I also need to be physically present and emotionally attentive with my boys daily. Now, these are the steps that I, personally, need to take. Every guy’s goals and action items will be a little different depending on family dynamics, work, location, etc. The point is, to find what works for you, and vigorously pursue that. Because if you don’t, then what’s the point?
From there I must pursue excellence in health and fitness, in friendships, and at work. Living this way helps me achieve excellence, but also sets the standard for them as they continue to learn and grow. Have I failed? All the time. Will I fail again? Most definitely. But herein lies the answer that I’m developing for my son’s original question. Failure is a part of life. A huge part of life. But it does not have to be an identity-defining part of life. It is okay to fail. It is okay to lose (still is difficult to verbalize that, if I’m being honest). And the answer to the core question of “Will you still love me even if I fail?” is this: No matter how many times you fail, it will never determine or dictate my love for you. What’s more, there is absolutely nothing they could do to jeopardize my love for them. Nothing. Nada. Zip. That’s what unconditional love is, and that’s what you sign up for when you have a kid, planned or not. There is no other option. You do your best to love them unconditionally, because that is what God does for us. No matter how many times we fail, God not only accepts us back with open arms. He continues to radically pursue our hearts to be in relationship with him.
The best gift I can give my sons is the freedom to fail, and the understanding that their failure will not define them and will never decrease my love for them. After all, that’s the gift that I’ve been given. That all of us have been given. I’m just doing my best to give to my sons what my Heavenly Father gives to me. Truly unconditional love.