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Volume 16, Issue 1: Virga

Attention Disorders

Matt Whittling

We loved that old station wagon. Its "wood" sides and trim looked nearly authentic in the heated and careening aesthetic kaleidoscope of the 70's. On road trips my parents would fold down the back seat and throw sleeping bags in the large flat trunk area where my brother and I would lounge as we swayed down the highway. It was like a bed on wheels for the two of us. Sometimes our dad would even roll the rear window down just a bit, and we could smell the fresh air mixed with carbon monoxide carried in on the wings of the swirling back draft. After one such memorable trip we arrived home and saw our father jump out of the wagon almost before it came to a complete stop. In no time he was peering in through that dusty rear window beckoning us to come out—he wasn't smiling.

What could we have done? Sure, there had been some wrestling and pressing of the other guy's face into the carpet, one of us had been bent out of shape for a few minutes, but everything was fine now. Dad had said something over his shoulder about five miles out, but he hadn't seemed angry. Anyway it was all done in a spirit of rambunctious brotherly love. Dad had us out in no time, lined up next to the wood trim, smiling sheepishly while our minds tripped over themselves searching simultaneously for offense and excuse like dogs just into the chicken yard.
"Put your hands on the car, and bend over," the command came too soon for either mind to secure much traction. My brother, older and wiser than I, turned around facing the car and assumed the position. Hoping for the best, I pressed my palms against the "wood" and bowed in Japanese fashion with a dumbfounded expression on my face—"What could be going on? This all seemed so hasty and unfair?"
One of the great blessings my father bestowed upon my brother and me, from a young age, was the timeless truth that feigned ignorance—playing dumb—is a bucket without a bottom. He knew that there are certain times when nothing speaks so clearly and directly to a young boy's heart and mind as his backside, and our dad didn't shy away from entering into this great conversation with his sons.
Many parents hesitate, fret, and make excuses for their son's behavior simply because he claims a certain amnesty of the mind, "But, Mom, I didn't hear you. . . I've never been told not to. . . I didn't understand that you meant. . . I don't remember the teacher ever saying. . ." This sort of nonsense has the unfortunate effect of not only convincing Mom that her dear boy really didn't understand, it also teaches the same lesson to the plaintiff. Young men who grow up being mollycoddled in these sorts of circumstances learn well the lessons being taught—the claim of ignorance is a ticket away from responsibility. If not getting it means I won't catch it, then I'll drop it every time.
It is a danger of course to pretend that all of these lessons are learned in a self-conscious way, especially in boys. Young men who do not heed their parents are not always doing it on purpose. "Not heeding" is the default setting that most children come with. They don't go around all day trying not to heed instruction; it comes naturally. Their mind is on the Indians they are fighting or the hostages they are rescuing—they are not making a concentrated effort to ignore Mom. This is where loving discipline proves most needful. It is the parents' job to insure that their children are taught to listen, heed, remember, and "get it." Parents who instead turn these obligations into excuses are simply raising children to be like themselves.
Children need to be taught that it is their job to seek out wisdom and instruction. This means that listening to Mom and your teacher is the responsibility of the child, and the child is the one who should be expending the effort and energy to grasp and understand what it is that is being said. This of course, resonates with the idea of imitating God in the way you bring up your children (Deut. 8:5, Eph. 5:1). God saves His children and sanctifies them over time. He doesn't download wisdom into us an hour after conversion. God has ordained that wisdom comes first by fearing God and then through the means of receiving words, treasuring commands, inclining ears, applying hearts, crying out for discernment, lifting up the voice for understanding, and actively seeking and searching for her (Prov.2). These are activities that can only be accomplished "on purpose".
Children who want to hear, understand, and heed commands—will, and those who don't will follow their parents into an ignorant and passive disobedience that perpetuates itself. It is important to understand that parents who don't teach their children to heed instruction are themselves not heeding instruction, and the apple rarely falls far from the tree.
Mom closed her "wooden" door and came around to see how things were developing. Because of my forward bow, all I could see was the hard grey concrete and the tips of my father's dress shoes. I knew (unconsciously) that if I could get him to laugh, even a little, I just might diffuse the situation (inadvertently) and barter my way to freedom through smiles. Dad knew better.

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