Looking back

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“Children obey your parents…. Honour your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1–2).

It is such a simple instruction in such a complicated world. We know what it means, and we would hardly disagree with it in principle, but there are so many things to add.

This past summer, two events occurred which signalled that an era of my life is coming to a close. First, my son invited me to go to a Bob Dylan concert with him. I felt honoured but also somewhat disconcerted. Bob Dylan is the grandfather of rock and roll for my generation. We were the generation who would strike out on new paths. Dylan’s was the music of rebellion against the old order.

And now I would finally see Bob Dylan in person-but with my son? We sat in the stratosphere above the stage in a cloud of pungent blue smoke among a strange assortment of frenzied teenagers, ancient hippies and parent/child teams such as my own. It was surreal.

As Bob Dylan sang so long ago, “The times, they are a-changin’….”

The second event that occurred was a road trip across the northern U.S. on the way to a family gathering in Winnipeg. As we were driving east on Interstate 90, I realized that 29 years earlier, fresh out of high school, my cousin and I had hitchhiked down this same highway. It had been the rite of passage that the 60s called for, and it was the event that launched me from my family home into the world beyond.

Twenty-nine years is a very long time. In fact, during those years a whole new generation was born and is itself now being launched into the world.

My child-rearing days are over but as our youngest enters high school, notice has been given that the end is closer than my wife and I had ever imagined. We have more peers with post-school children than pre-school children.

So what has been the parenting legacy of our generation? It is unnerving for a generation that never wanted to grow up to look back-not on their own childhoods but on their children’s childhoods; to look back-not at their parents’ legacy but at their own.

So what kind of parents have the people in our generation been? It is a mixed bag. We may have made Bob Dylan rich, but we are also the generation that raised up James Dobson.

The Strong-Willed Child was for us what Dr. Spock was for our parents. Our young children may have been a little more “strong-willed” than we had been allowed to be, but, we reassured ourselves, that meant they would be better able to handle the pressures of society.

Just as we had set out to chart a new course in society, we were also going to bring new creativity and energy to parenting. The our were heady times.

The story of our children’s teen years is less pleasant to report on. In fact, the glut of books on parenting dries up rapidly as the topic of parenting teenagers is broached.

Those books that do exist are anemic by comparison, or they counsel parents on survival skills. James Dobson’s research revealed what we were already discovering: that the “strong-willed child” in fact did not resist the temptations of society very well. The strong will that was raised against parental authority did not shift to challenging evil. To our horror, our children not only succumbed to the same temptations that many in our generation did, but they also found new and seemingly deadlier pitfalls.

We will never really know what we put our parents through, but from my perspective we have fared worse than they did. Why was that?

Possibly part of the answer lies in the fact that it was the culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll which my generation invented that now called our children. Like the master blacksmith who is bound by his own chains, our children were caught in a culture we had helped set into motion. How could we tell them to resist that which we had created?

But I believe it is in the matter of submission to duly appointed authority that my generation has the most to answer for. “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” was not just a catchphrase for us-it was a way of living. The benchmark has been adjusted many times, but defiance of leadership remains deeply imbedded in the psyche of our culture.

What does this mean for us as parents? Since we are the ones who established the idea of rebellion against authority, what do we do when our children defy our authority!

What is our response when our children are drawn into the culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll that our generation first made popular?

What will we say when the music that our children listen to desecrates everything we now believe in? In reality, we resort to a catechism we did not invent: “Do as I say, not as I did!” It is no wonder that we have been deeply shaken by our own teenagers. It is not a picture we are very proud of.

But the story is not over. We are also seeing the next phase beginning to appear-our children are now becoming adults. Here the story takes yet another turn. A wonderful generation is emerging-a generation that is a testament, not to carefully laid parenting programs, but to God’s grace. Thankfully, successful adults are not limited to those who have had successful parenting. And so it is with deep humility that we need to pass an insight on to those who follow. It is the primary instruction our Father passed on to us-an instruction we found so hard to embrace: “Children obey your parents…. Honour your father and mother…that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

—James Toews is senior pastor of Neighbourhood Church in Nanaimo, B.C.

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