The Puritans. Remember them? Think Pilgrims. Clothes of black and white. Big buckles. Big hats. Big Bibles. Lots of rules. Pious. Stoic. Rigid.
Some of those descriptors fit. Some are speculative. Whatever the truth about the Puritans, their lifestyle was perceived as ultra conservative socially, practically and theologically. The epitome of separateness. Strict. Stuffy. Stodgy.
Well, not long ago, I was labeled a Puritan. By whom? Someone very close and dear: my son.
My son’s affectionate moniker for his father is not the result of me wearing knickers and long white socks. It’s not because I have shoulder-length hair or won’t mow the lawn on Sunday. I would have to plead guilty to spontaneous preaching, but that’s not the reason either. Instead, I’ve been relegated to the Puritan tribe because of my conservative approach to all things media.
My thoughtful and careful (i.e. Puritanical) tendencies have created a tension. A tension between my son and me over the timing and depth of his cultural engagements. It’s a tension all parents face with differing degrees of concern. My desire is to let my son stick his toe into the varied pools of life as his age and maturity warrant. He, on the other hand, wants to swan dive into each pool, going deep to explore the depths. Sure, many pools are accessible, even for the youngest of children. But not all pools are profitable, practical or good for swimming. So, as a dad I must be on round-the-clock lifeguard duty.
As my children age, I’ve found that for pools of all types there’s pressure to jump in and swim. Pressure from peers – theirs, and mine. That pressure produces conflict. Conflict that isn’t just about right and wrong, but also when, where and why. When is it OK to jump in? Where are the safe pools? Why can’t I swim in that pool – they are? Pools like email, facebook, music, movies and social events with the opposite sex. Pools that require discernment before, during and after the swim. Many pools look inviting, refreshing, normal and safe. Yet, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
And that’s when this “Puritan” dad goes toe-to-toe against the mythic “everyone else.” It can be lonely, frustrating and draining. There are times I’ve wanted to loosen my belt of conviction (yes, the one with the big buckle). To be honest, I’ve needed some loosening as some preferences have morphed into non-negotiables. But in other instances, the tightness is just right. Appropriate, no matter what.
Traversing the landscape of our culture is not easy. I do understand what my son might feel as “Puritan Boy.” I’ve given him permission to make me the scapegoat for his stunted social life. Standing on conviction means there will be times of feeling like the outsider. In those times, when the spotlight shines on our uncomfortable uniqueness, both he and I must beg God for a deeper trust of each other as we live-out our convictions.
All in all, I’m not upset about my new term of endearment. Katrina (who has also been banished to the tribe Puritan) and I both got a laugh out of it. Frankly, I deserve some of my boy’s good-natured ribbing. I enjoy being his dad and pacing with him as he grows. He is refining my theology. He is helping bring clarity to my preferences, convictions and non-negotiables. He may not agree with my boundaries, but that’s OK. It fuels some excellent conversation. Conversation that requires courage and stamina. There are no days-off for the purposeful parent. So, this Puritan is re-doubling his effort to be a parent who leads with grace, followed gently by truth.
By the way, I go for my hat and big buckle fitting next week.