Justin closed his eyes – he just did not want to look. This being his first plane ride, he had no idea what to expect and he clutched Clifford, his stuffed red dog, as our plane left the ground heading for Dallas, Texas. His mother, Lisa, was to meet us there for the weekend while she completed some mandatory training in her field of cardiac sonography. It was 1992 and Justin was just six years old. I don’t remember much about that trip other than touring the infamous school book depository building from where Lee Oswald shot President Kennedy. But I do remember the fear in Justin’s eyes as the plane took off that day and how he looked at me – scared but trusting that I was telling him the truth – that everything would be okay.
That was twenty-three years ago and Justin is now a married man who turns twenty-nine on January 25th. Lisa and I are sorry we are unable to be with he and his wife, Lori, as they celebrate, but he is on our minds and always in our hearts. As his father I think often of those days gone by when he and his younger sister, Heather, were children playing in the backyard or going to school or little league practice or church to sing in the choir or the thousands of other places and events that we shared together. We could not be more proud of them both.
One of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13”. The story of how Jim Lovell and his crew along with all the NASA engineers managed to return them to earth from the moon’s orbit on a damaged spacecraft – is one of the most compelling in history. In one scene, the engineers are trying to work out a sequence to repair the ship’s computer and worry that a vital step in the process may have been overlooked. “Did we miss something here?”, one of the engineers asked as they worry that something crucial was overlooked. Any parent will understand when I say that many nights I laid in bed thinking about the job I did as a father and asked that question, “Did we miss something here?” Parents turn their children loose into a dark and dangerous world and can only pray that God will protect them as they go.
Raising a son is a challenge. Not to say that raising a daughter isn’t as well. That story will be saved for another day. As a man, I knew the kind of challenges Justin would face in his life. I understood from my own experiences that he would be tested for his manhood, his toughness, his sexual purity, his Christian principles, his desire to be accepted and his ability to deal with rejection. The little boy clutching that stuffed animal on that airplane would face and did face challenges that make that scary flight pale in comparison. As he grew and as he matured and as Lisa and I watched his handling of those challenges – we could only hope we had done enough, that we had not missed some vital step. I have heard it said that parents take too much credit for the things their children do well and too much blame for the things they do wrong. That may be true. But, watching Justin dealing with the challenge of growing into a man, I have concluded this: I have no idea who should get the credit. God is certainly behind all this and I give Him the glory. Whenever I look around my life and wonder how we got here – the grace of God is the only explanation. We could not be more proud of the man he has turned out to be. I don’t know how we did as parents but I know God did His part very well.
There are so many traits that we see in both our children that remind us of us. I see Lisa in Heather, I see Lisa in Justin and I see traits of mine in them both. But, there also are parts of them that I have no idea from what branch in our family tree they came from. Justin has the quickest wit of anyone in our family and can bring a room to its knees in laughter. It is no secret in our family that I am often the focal point of that humor. Justin reminds me often about my love for “Little Debbie” snacks (though I swear I have broken the habit). While denying I indulge in them anymore, Justin once retorted, “If the diabetic shoe fits – wear it!” How he comes up with such zingers is beyond any of us. That sense of humor has served him well in what has been a challenging job working in the building industry where difficult people can make his life a living hell. Without his ability to find humor – he may have not made it as long as he has. Justin has developed a toughness that comes from some difficult times and hard work and, I am convinced, God is preparing him for something more in his life. His ability to read people has allowed him to deal with difficult situations and he has the uncanny ability to diffuse an angry new homeowner and unreasonable co-workers as well as a, sometimes, hard-headed dad. It is fun to watch God molding the clay.
Twenty-nine years ago Justin was born. He was born on the Saturday before the Chicago Bears played New England in Super Bowl XX. During that game, Justin laid across my lap and slept as the Bears won 46-10. He had no choice but to become a Chicago Bear fan just like me – it was absolute destiny. Justin was also destined to be a Pittsburgh Pirate and Louisville Cardinal fan – it was hardly as much his choice as it was mine. Justin is like his mother and he is like me – in different ways But he is a young man all his own – unique, kind, understanding, smart and faithful. He loves his wife and his family and is as loyal a friend as anyone could ever want. I look back over time and wonder if we missed a step. From the looks of things in his life I suppose not. I just don’t know how we did it.
Whatever happened to the scared little boy on that airplane?
Happy Birthday, Son! Love Mom and Dad!