Home > Opinion > Foster, Stephen > 2012 >
The Lesson
Submitted: Apr 19, 2012
By Stephen Foster

My father is a very intelligent guy.

When I was an adolescent he taught my brother Preston and me a very important lesson.

My Dad always encouraged reason and discussion of various ideas, issues, theories, and events.

There were chores and assignments that we each were given and rules that made no sense (to me), that just happened to come up for discussion one day.

Undoubtedly I had respectfully expressed my displeasure about having to do something when, to my surprise, my father offered a compromise.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, “from now on you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do.”

Now, of course, he had my attention!

“You don’t have to do wash dishes, you don’t have to go to prayer meeting, you don’t have to go to bed; you don’t have to do anything.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing; this was too good to true. That is to say that I knew him well enough to realize that this was indeed to good to be true, that there had to be a catch, but I couldn’t imagine what it could be because I was so intoxicated with the thought of sudden autonomy and emancipation.

Dad then turned to my younger brother, who was then only 9 or 10 at the time, and said something like “Do you want in on this too?” Preston either nodded in the affirmative or looked at me, at which point Dad asked, “So, do we have a deal?”

We said, “Yeah, OK” and no sooner did we get those words out that he immediately said, “All right, but the same goes for me. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do either. That’s only fair, of course.”

What he said next clearly represented the other shoe dropping, “Do you see that television over there? That’s my television—because I bought it— and now I don’t have to let you watch it anymore.”

Now, to be candid—for me—that was really all I needed to hear. The “light” came on for me right there; and I totally got his point. Not that I was ready to concede, mind you, but I understood the lesson right then, since TV was so important to me—something Dad knew full well.

But he went on, “Come to think of it, that food in the refrigerator is mine too. I bought the refrigerator and what’s in it; I don’t have to let you eat my food anymore.”

Trust me, I totally got it by then, and so did Preston, since food was—and remains—most important to him.

Our pride however would not permit us to concede the point in a first round knockout and besides, we wanted to try our “freedom” out for a while.

Now, Preston had recently had a birthday and still had most, if not all of his birthday money; so, as “luck” would have it, we—or more precisely, he—had some cash at “our” disposal.

This was in the mid-60’s so needless to say $10-$15 went much further then than it does now. We asked our mother to drive us to the store so we could buy our own food. Now, she is of the generation where the parents worked as a team against the kids (just kidding, everybody) so she was technically on Dad’s side; but she was (and is) still our Mom, after all, so she consented to take us.

We purchased our favorite cold cereal and probably a loaf of bread and some other no-preparation stuff and eventually returned home.

Now, mind you, neither of us had ever missed a meal or ever actually been hungry at all in our lives. We had always taken for granted that food appeared, and was prepared, because we had to eat; and that the television was there for us to watch it.

From a theoretical perspective, we knew that our parents loved us; but we absolutely took for granted what they did for us as a result of loving us.

Anyway, the next day we ate our favorite breakfast cereals, and probably some toast. I can’t recall if my mother packed us a lunch or not, but in any case it couldn’t have been much; and if we packed it, it surely wasn’t much. We had to eat cereal or another sandwich that evening because we didn’t know how to prepare anything else.

By the next morning, as I recall, we were pathetic. Well, we had been pathetic all along, obviously; but now it was visible. As I was eating my cereal again that morning I recall being so hungry that my hand quivered as I brought the spoon of Frosted Flakes or Wheaties to my pathetic little mouth.

Preston was in equally bad shape. My father appeared out of nowhere and asked my brother, “Well, are you ready to be my son again?”

Preston didn’t hesitate. He either nodded his head in the affirmative or promptly said, “Yes.” Then Dad asked me, “what about you?”

Now, this is my Dad, remember; he knew me better than I knew me at that point in my life, and knew that I didn’t want to give in, even though I wanted out of this mess in which I had stepped (and made).

I said, “Well, I don’t have any money so, Yes.” That of course was pride, stubborn pride. I couldn’t have just said “Yes;” I had to qualify it.

Mercifully, my father let me off the hook, because he realized he had made his point; and because he loves me.

Now, I understood his authority from that point forward. I never questioned it again. But this is also why we shouldn’t question the authority of God. He provides us with life and reasoning power. He sustains us with every heart beat he permits; with every breath we are privileged to take. We should show some gratitude.

Instead we question His existence or His sovereignty or His wisdom or His authority or His love. All of us do.

mark mccleary
2012-04-26 8:01 AM

I only had my mother who adhered to the same posture. The issue you illustrate is a correlation of power and authority. Power is the ability to get another to do what you want, even without their consent (social theorists) and authority is legitmate right to rule. God has both, but has also given us freedom to be insubordinate yet I testify He gets His will done in the fulness of time. I'm still learning about this issue/lesson as I guide my children and the shoes are on my feet. Thank God for His mercy and goodness that have followed my through this process.

Stephen Foster
2012-04-29 11:19 PM

I’ve been thinking about the profundity of your comment Mark. The proper exercise and/or best evidence of authority is that it seldom requires reminders of its attendant power.

Elaine Nelson
2012-04-30 10:59 AM

When my three were young, we lived away from close neighbors and my boy, especially, loved to play with a classmate several miles away.  Whenever he asked to go there, I would tell him as soon as he cleaned his room (or whatever chore he had been assigned) that I would drive him there.  That was usually all it took:  a trade-off.  There were always chores that he could do to buy my time.  Lesson learned:  nothing in life is free, one must work for rewards.  (This did NOT apply to school grades!)

Kevin Riley
2012-04-30 9:40 PM

Your kids didn't work for school grades??  Don't tell mine that!  In his final year of school, my son is just getting the idea of working for results.  I don't want anything wrecking that new-found application to school work.  He's enjoying maths and science (phycsics and chemistry), not so much English and religion.  He announced the other day he thinks he will pursue Chemistry as his main subject at university, but may do a PhD in Maths 'just for fun'.  As I near the end of my PhD (not in Maths), the words 'just for fun' sound more like 'even if it kills me'.

Kevin Riley
2012-04-30 9:37 PM

Bribery (no matter how nicely described) is an essential skill for anyone wishing to be a parent.  Having 'special needs' kids also makes learning about life more interesting.  I hope my mother also thought so.

Any parent has basically lost their authority when they have to forcefully remind their kids of it.  Same applies to most authority figures.  It has been said HM QEII has a lot of powers mainly because she doesn't usually use them.  Churches could learn a lot from her.  Although I just imagined my pastor in an evening gown and tiara - not a good thought.  A suit and tie works much better.

Elaine Nelson
2012-04-30 10:06 PM

Guess my parents and my generation never considered paying for grades.  We were too ashamed to bring home anything below a B.  Of course, there was no TV, a few choice radio programs but homework had to be done before anything else.

Now, my granddaughter in 7th grade has remarked "Work before play" and she diligently does her homework as well as practicing piano and violin, which has really paid off--she is now concermistress in the Sacramento Youth Symphony where most players are high school students, and she is involved in Pathfinder and weekly orchestra practice.  Her parents have never had TV, which is only used to play selected movies.  She is a straight A student and as far as I know, has never received pay, but the feeling of accomplishing excellence.  This is when a child becomes self-motivated and needs no outside "pushing."

With competition for colleges getting more difficult, those who are "so-so" students may not get their first, second, or third choice.

Kevin Riley
2012-05-01 1:51 AM

Sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you meant you did not expect your children to work for good grades.  You meant you did not reward them with money for good grades.  I think we are in agreement now.

Stephen Foster
2012-05-01 5:53 AM

As you can perhaps understand, our parents had challenges with us that other parents might never imagine having with their children.
Our younger sister is/was a smarter kid. She was apparently more like your children:)

Preston Foster
2012-05-01 8:02 AM

Our younger sister was raised by "different" parents: we were raised (lovingly) under law; she, under grace.  As such, she tended to do the right thing -- for the right reasons (and, also, is smarter).


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