Tag Archives: parenting

In honor of our Dad

 

The man himself.

Today, one month after we robustly celebrate mothers, is Father’s Day: a day set aside to remember and thank our dads for all of the ways that they have influenced and shaped us. As I’ve watched commercials leading up to this day, many of them suggest that the best thing to do in order to say thank you to your dear father is to buy him some kind of tool to use in a wood shop, some accessories for his car, or maybe a really nice, expensive razor. But in our family, where egalitarian and shared parenting was the name of the game, and it took two partners in child-rearing to raise this “femonite” and her siblings, it feels only appropriate that we should fete our dad in the same way as we celebrated our mom: by naming and remembering many of the lessons that we’ve learned from dad over the last few years as a thank you for all of the ways that we have been and continue to be shaped by our dad.

From Maya…

The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you,
but in what he cannot reveal to you.
Therefore, if you would understand him,
listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say.
–Kahlil Gibran in Sand and Foam

Dad doesn’t always say a lot. He is an introvert, like me (or rather, I am an introvert like him), and for those who don’t know him well

Dad and Maya

he can seem quiet and reserved.* For those who do know him, they sense the quietness in dad’s phone conversations–he says what is on his mind, listens to what’s on your mind, and doesn’t waste time with small talk. As soon as he begins the “uh huh, ok, yeah”s you know that everything important has already been said and it’s time to be done.

The reality of my father is not in what he reveals to you, not in what he says, but in what he cannot easily reveal. My father loves in action. I’ve felt this love, witnessed and learned from it.

 My dad might not articulate that he is perseverant, but he is. Some may call my dad and me stubborn, and that is somewhat true, but we are also persistent in our tasks. Mom often says that when dad or I get an idea into our minds, we have to pursue it. In every work assignment my dad has held, I’ve seen him engage with energy that exceeds all job descriptions. Cooking meals for teams and colleagues, hosting sports camps for children, working to maintain soccer fields and relationships between administration, parents and players, etc. But the way he does it shows pure humility. He never asks to be recognized or praised, but he deserves to be.

 There was one particularly painful job that my dad had and kept in order to help support our family and my mother’s seminary education. I didn’t fully understand the sacrifices that he and my mother made during this time until years later. I’m sure there are many other sacrifices I don’t know about that come with the role of being a pastor’s spouse. Dad worked with juvenile delinquents for many years–a tenure that’s uncommon in a setting where staff turnover is extremely high because of the incredible demands of the job. My dad was spat at, kicked, bitten, insulted, all manner of terrible things, but I never knew this as a child. Because he didn’t bring it home. He never complained to us.

 What I remember instead was the voice of my father (which is, in my opinion, still the most beautiful voice in the world) singing us to sleep. He would sit in the hallway, between my brother’s bedroom and Hannah’s and my shared bedroom, and play his acoustic guitar. In the hot summertime when I would lay on top of the blankets, frozen still to keep from feeling my sticky body, I listened as the air floated with blackbirds singing in the dead of night, Puff the Magic Dragon, and hymns about the morning breaking. It was beautiful and I felt loved.

 This is my father, the man who may not say much but who loves deeply and generously in actions.

 Even now, as I live 8 hours away, I find my dad willing and wanting to help in anyway he can.

 Should he help plan a soccer camp? Would I like some extra coaching tips? Should he mail some of his soccer books to me? Did I need help with any Spanish trip fundraisers? Would I like some extra soil for my garden? Should he bring his guitar to lead my Spanish class in some Christmas tunes?

 These are the sorts of questions I received and I often accepted/will accept (dad, don’t forget about you soccer camp offer, because

With our tickets for the Harry Potter 7 midnight premiere!

I certainly haven’t…). And in all these questions and acts of service, I know it’s the same as my father saying over and over again. Can I help you? Because I love you.

 In this way I am and aspire to be even more like my dad: to show my love for others in what I do. To only speak what’s important and be careful with my words. And even though I’m captivated my language, to listen more and be attentive to the needs and desires of others.

 In a time where father figures are frequently absent or negative, I know that I am blessed to have the father I do. A father who held me first, because the midwife was late, and who still supports me today. Love you papi. Happy Father’s Day. 

*Unless he’s on the soccer field. My dad is the best soccer coach I’ve ever had (and I know many of my peers from high school feel the same way) and continues to be an excellent coach at the collegiate level. For those who meet him first on the soccer field, they hear his booming voice giving instruction and may not perceive him to be as quiet as I claim. I’m not angry, he always clarifies to his players (almost daily at practices), I’m just speaking loudly so you can all hear me. Now that I’ve begun to coach soccer, I find myself mimicking his style.

From Elias…

The whole Kehr fam.

I have always appreciated the fact that dad has unparalleled patience. There is a deep current there. Sometimes dad will get upset, but in the long run, he is steady and calm as the great river spirit.

When I was younger, and dad took a job where he was working in the evenings, he and I had a chance to spend our mornings together, and those times always meant a lot to me. Sometimes we would go hiking in OxBow park and we would talk, and on certain days he would even let me sit in his lap and drive the car around the park.

From Hannah…

In some ways, as I get older, even though people always told me that I acted a lot like my mother, I continue to be surprised when I find glimpses of not just my mom, but my dad’s personality and ways of doing things, rising to the fore. Here are some of the best things I’ve learned from my dad.

1. There is nothing as soothing as being sung to sleep. When we were younger, and my siblings and I shared space in two rooms with a small hallway in between, dad would sometimes bring his guitar and a book full of folk tunes and sit out in the hallway and sing us to sleep. Remembering those times, snuggled in my bed and getting drowsy while dad’s tenor voice sang the words to “Brown-eyed girl” by Van Morrisson, I always feel safe and loved.

2. You have to see the big picture, not just the immediate needs. Over his tenure as a soccer coach, my dad has helped to build several successful and thriving women’s soccer programs. Although a lot of the credit for this can go to the fact that dad loves the game of soccer, and is always learning more and better coaching techniques, I think part of this success was also due to the fact that he was not just focused on his present team, but on the big picture of all the teams to come. When he coached high school soccer, he always made sure to also be involved in cultivating a strong soccer program for middle school girls. He made sure that all of his players, not just those who were starting on the varsity, but also those on the junior varsity and who were substitutes off the bench, felt appreciated and got to be active participants in practice and in team life. When it came time to give “banana awards” – his signature post-game rewards – he would not just offer a banana to players who had scored a goal, but to players who had played a good defensive game or who were supportive and encouraging to their teammates. In this way, he was able to build up a program that was not only successful, but rarely, if ever, had a shortage of women excited to play soccer.

3. Hospitality and community building is important. From my father I think I picked up my habit of sort of “last-minute hosting.” I remember that dad would often, sometimes to my mother’s dismay, invite people over on short notice, or allow us to bring friends home. Whenever this happened, he would often simply go buy more food or get to work preparing the house for these people’s arrival in a low key manner. Several times a year, we would host his soccer teams at our house: for spaghetti, for a movie night, or sometimes for his signature fajitas. For me, the model that my dad set is one that I still strive to emulate: I want people to feel comfortable coming to our home whenever they want, and I often invite people over on a whim, perhaps sometimes to my husband’s dismay. Offering hospitality to others is one of the ways that I have been taught to show my love to others.

After a highly competitive game of famiy raquetball.

4. Humor is the best. It was definitely from my dad that I learned my love of “dumb movies.” I think my siblings and I all share with my dad a bend towards the sarcastic. I have fond memories of sitting around our den in our old house in Indiana, watching a movie like Zoolander, and laughing so hard that we would cry and/or roll off the couch.

5. You should love, respect and care for your parents through every stage of their lives. My dad is not only a good dad, but he is a good son. Throughout my childhood and still today, I have witnessed the careful ways that my dad has cared for his own parents. In the summers, he would often spend free days fishing with my grandpa out on his boat. He would be intentional about stopping by to visit his parents, and making sure they felt welcome in our home. Today, even though my parents no longer live in Indiana, dad makes the regular drive to Indiana to pick up his parents and bring them out to spend time in Kansas. Because of my dad’s good relationships with his parents, I feel as though I was able to grow closer to my grandparents.

6. A parent’s love for their child is, truly, unconditional and steady. After one particularly embarrassing incident (for both dad and I), which I won’t recount fully here, but which ended with me yelling at him in the stands from the basketball court where I was playing, I remember dreading going home after the game to face dad. I knew that I was embarrassed and that my dad was probably mortified, and I was sure that I would walk in and find him very angry with me. But instead, I remember coming in to the house and having dad come sit quietly by me on the couch. He gave me a little shoulder massage, and asked me how the rest of the game had gone, and I knew that we would be ok. This willingness to forgive easily and to let us know he loved us in quiet, small moments was a gift that my dad often offered, and for which I am very grateful.

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Lessons from our mother

The whole Kehr family

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and [God] bends you with . . . might
that [God’s] arrows might go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as [God] loves the arrow that flies,
so [God] loves also the bow that is stable.”
-Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet  

These last few weeks and months, as we have begun preparing in earnest for the arrival of our own Baby H, motherhood has been on my mind. In fact, I have been more aware of the coming of Mother’s Day this year than in perhaps any year in the future (sorry, mom, for my general lack of preparation in the past).  

So, for today’s post, my siblings and I each decided to share some lessons that we learned or gifts of wisdom that we received from our own mom. Feel free to share your own learnings from your mothers, as well.  

From Maya

I must admit that personality tests fascinate me. There is an almost-captivating joy in reading a detailed and structured analysis of how I function. Psychologists can predicate my response in situations of stress, creativity and discernment. Since my freshman year of high school, when I first took the Myers-Briggs (E/INFJ), something I sensed was articulated: I am a blend of the spirit of my mother and the thoughtfulness of my father. Yet only in recent years have I recognized in myself, without the help of unknown psychologists, a pastoring soul.

I’ve easily accepted aspects of my father in me (gentle introversion, athletic passion, stubbornness/perseverance), perhaps because I’ve always been told we share a similar physical appearance. My mother was harder to find in my inner self–more elusive in my self-analysis.

Maya and Mom

But I find her in images and instances:

Boldness. I remember an afternoon conversation in our Elkhart kitchen–my mother was graduating seminary and searching for a congregation. I sat in our kitchen, with sticky fingers from an afternoon snack, and listened as Hannah (my sister) and mom discussed the reasons why a particular congregation in Pennsylvania might not accept a female pastor. The idea that some believed women were unfit for ministry was foreign to me–it was not a part of my worldview and I was too young to realize the thought existed.

“But why?” I asked. My mom tried to explain carefully, how some interpreted the Bible to arrive at such a conclusion. I thought that was ridiculous and rebelled–of course that is wrong! My mother will be a pastor–and if God has called her to that, how could it be wrong? I still find myself asking incredulously at times, “But why?” to such hermeneutics.

Only reflecting as a woman later in life do I realize my mother was and is brave. Occasionally I see that bravery in me.

Physical presence. Sports were a major part of my activities in high school and carried with them extreme highs and lows. I remember coming home after games, still stinky with sweat, dirt and tears. I remember feeling bone-tired and lying on the couch and then feeling my mother’s hands rubbing my back or rubbing my feet. She would listen and ask questions, but it was the presence of her body that brought me comfort. I could rest on her lap and feel once again safe and loved. Coming home from college on long road trips she would do the same. And every night, before going to bed, she would kiss the top of my forehead. That spot is marked forever as a sign–letting me know I am loved.

I see my mother in me through the beauty of my body and the possibilities it provides for me to nurture those around me.

The written word. My immediate family is full of great thinkers. I remember being 15, being boy-crazy and being scared to show my full intelligence (upon reflection, I think this was subconsciously caused by an unhealthy association between intelligence and lowered attractiveness/femininity). I was receiving a B+ in English and my mom swiftly stole my instant messaging privileges. “This in unfair!” I shouted, “other parents would be perfectly happy with a B+. Why should I be treated differently?!?”

You are a writer, she told me, and a B+ does not show what you are capable of.

Throughout college and beyond, my mom and I have exchanged essays and sermons, each giving the other feedback, ideas and editing advice. For years I have kept a journal and recognize in myself the need to write. Writing provides a peace, balance and steadiness.

Thanks mom, for helping me find confidence in my gifts–I see you in them.

I feel as though I’ve already used up my fair share of words for this blog, so I’ll end it here.

Anita Denise Yoder Kehr: thank you for bringing me into this world and walking with me through it.

I love you.

From Elias

From mom I learned that it is definitely important to have high standards for yourself for how things will go, but that it is equally

Elias, Maya and Mom

important to be flexible and to respond to other people’s expectations and needs.

I’ve also learned more about how you deal empathetically with people who make decisions that are different from the ones that you would make. 

From Hannah – Five Lessons from Mom

1. The understanding that dreams and callings take time to unfurl – I have great respect for my mother’s own journey towards her vocational calling, but watching her on a journey of discovery throughout my childhood has been helpful to me in understanding and knowing that I don’t have to have everything figured out right now. In her twenties, mom worked several different jobs at the college, through voluntary service programs, with our local church in San Antonio and through other outlets. She also spent time at home with the three of us. It wasn’t until she was in her 30’s that she heard the call to pastoral ministry in a striking enough way to merit moving our family across the country, from Texas to Indiana, so that she could study and eventually pursue a position in congregational ministry. This meant that I was old enough to watch and remember this calling growing and expanding, and to watch my mother on her journey towards more intentional ministry, and that in and of itself was a gift.

2. The understanding that hospitality means making space for everyone – I remember my mom pulling me aside after one particular party that I had hosted during high school. This gathering had been open to any of the women in my class at high school, but my mom had noticed that I had spent 95% of my time talking to a few select friends, and that I had not noticed several women who had been left out of games and activities and who were clearly looking for ways to get in on the conversation. In a gentle but firm way, she reminded me that part of being a good host means being sure that everyone who you have invited feels welcome, cared for and seen.

3. The understanding that chocolate and/or coffee can help in certain times of trouble– Maybe this one is self-explanatory.

4. The understanding that feminism is good – Things were not always easy for my mom and dad, balancing expectations of

Hannah and Mom

shared parenting and working very hard in jobs that often demanded hours well above and beyond what was written into their contracts. Add to that the challenge of becoming a female pastor in a church that had not yet (and still hasn’t) decided across-the-board that it is open to women in ministry, and the journey was certainly not always easy. I remember one particular conversation with my mom, at the end of high school, where I made it clear that, although I supported equality for women, I didn’t like the word feminism: it felt angry and irrelevant. She gently reminded me that feminism was, in fact, nothing more than caring about equality for women, and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write off a movement. Little did I know that this word and style of thought would, in fact, come to be so important to me, and that my mom’s own journey would be one of the key tales that I carry with me in thinking about what feminism looks like.

5. The understanding that I was and am loved, no matter what – I won’t lie and say that my mom and I always got along, or that childhood was always easy. If you asked mom, I’m sure she could tell you some stories about “the year Hannah was 12.” Apparently I was quite moody, although I seem to have resolutely blocked out some of those memories. We can both be stubborn, and we can certainly get emotional and carried away at times. I realized just recently once, while in an argument with Justin, that when I make a certain sort of exasperated comments and throw up my hands in a gesture of frustration, I am mimicking a pattern that I sometimes saw exchanged between my mom and dad. That’s weird.

But even in the midst of these times when there were disagreements, when I would dramatically retreat to my bedroom or out to our backyard swing set in tears, my mom would come find me, eventually, and would sit beside me, smooth my hair back and we would talk through things. My mom has always been the person that I vent to, which probably hasn’t always been easy for her, but I know that her love has been big enough to hold and help carry all of my angst. And in recent years, it has been a gift to feel like we have moved into a new stage of relationship, marked by a deep friendship, where she can share frustrations and excitement with me, too. Talking to my mom always makes me feel safe, loved and at home.

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