There’s no more ominous feeling in the pit of one’s stomach than finding out that your child is struggling to find the light amidst the darkness in the world.
Inescapable fear that somehow or another as a parent you failed in your duty to protect your child becomes the prevailing sentiment 24 hours of your life.
In my life, there is nothing I have found more profound, meaningful and essential than being a parent.
The title “Dad” is something I have found to be a privilege, not a right. It’s an earned responsibility. A duty. A commitment. A promise.
From the beginning of my time as a Dad I have learned that the title does not come without trial and error. Mistakes are made along the way. Some small. Some big. But, without fail, each time I have felt I have it down pat I find humility sneaks up and grabs me from behind — reminding me there’s nothing easy about being a Dad.
The past few weeks I have learned more about the humbling reality that the easiest part of being a Dad is saying you are one.
I have also come to further appreciate that my parents, and my brothers and sisters who are parents, and all parents, have a job much tougher than any on this planet.
Within this appreciation is an understanding that today’s parents, and their children, are facing increasingly more difficult odds in a world that is intent on stripping away any form of safety and sanctuary.
In the winsome years of my youth there was never the ubiquity of technology that straddled my life from morning to night. No constant barrage of sounds and images and messages that confronted me as I lumbered from my bed – to the breakfast table – and then off to school.
The teenage brain and its design has not evolved much since the beginning of time.
It is a complicated and complex paradox of chemicals and electrical impulses.
Unfortunately, while it has remained consistent in its development the inputs to it have not.
In the rudest, more unfair way, environmental conditions beyond the control of a teenager have identified a host that can be easily damaged, diluted, distracted and numbed.
Somehow in the rush of my life as a Dad I failed to understand the enormity of all of this. Perhaps it was in the smug belief that I was doing pretty well at this Dad thing – that the rise of the teenager in my midst was being effectively met by a parent who understood his own strengths and weaknesses.
And then the darkness began to block out the light.
There’s a warning here, in the midst of this post, for all of us as parents – Moms and Dads.
Your teenager is calling out to you for help. You may not know it. You may not believe it. You may not see it.
But he or she is calling out for your help.
It may be in the dark recesses of that teenage brain. The one where what they are thinking and feeling is unable to break through the complicated construction that holds it within their head.
It is an S.O.S.
If you can’t hear it, then you have to see it. Whether it’s in them – or on the things around them – or the words they use – the friends they have – or the friends they do not have.
The most humbling moment of my life has been realizing that my Dad senses of listening and seeing were far too dull at a time when my child needed them to be on red alert.
With a teenager, what you see is not what you get.
It’s what you don’t see is what you get.
It’s what you don’t see that they desperately need for you to see.
It’s what you don’t hear that demands you to focus intently on what they are saying.
More importantly, what they are not saying.
Make this moment the one where you check in. Be the parent. Not the friend.
Be the nosey, intruding, bossy, demanding parent who reminds the child and yourself – that you are the parent – they are the child.
Their most basic human right is that you will do whatever you can and whatever you must to protect them.
Don’t wait for a perfect moment. Don’t wait for the appropriate way to say it.
Just do it.
Your teenager is talking to you. In words and in deed.
Screaming. Crying. Begging.
Scared, anxious, confused, angry and sad.
Bordering on the line between hopeful and despair.
Are you listening?
Can you see them?