Bringing Up Boys

As a girl, I read Little Men and Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott and dreamed of living in a modern day Plumfield, rambunctious boys running hither and yon. A life full of mischief and hijinks and outdoor play. Through my school years, my closest friends were always boys; and I was thrilled when God’s gracious hand eventually added two to our family. 

Rob had an intuitive sense when it came to raising sons. He was close to his father growing up, and Rob modeled much of his own parenting after his father’s love. He knew boys needed equal parts toughness and affection, silliness and seriousness, a healthy dose of work and play. He taught our boys to hitch and unhitch our travel trailer, to chop wood with an ax, and to wire wall sconces in our upstairs hallway all when they were little. He showed them how a man should treat a woman and instructed them on how to make amends when they messed up. Rob modeled active listening and tender affection for his boys. Many times, even after they were too big to fit well, our boys would climb up into his lap after supper and rest against his broad chest as he and I continued adult conversation when the meal was through.

Often since Rob died, I’ve wondered how I’m going to raise my two boys without him. Rob died before the big sex talks, before driver’s ed, before their first dates and high school games. He won’t be there to coach them through choosing a college major or completing home improvement projects. Rob won’t answer the phone when our sons call home to tell us they’ve gotten engaged. My boys will feel Rob’s absence for the rest of their lives. Their grief and loss will indelibly mark their life’s story. When I think of these things, the future seems so heavy; I feel my own gross inadequacy to the task. I can’t do all those things. I can’t think like a man, be a man. I can’t be both mother and father.

A couple of months after Rob died, I reached out to an older gentleman I know who lost his father when he was my eldest son’s age. Always the researcher, I wanted to know what had helped or hurt this man in the years after his dad died. I wanted to figure out how I could position my boys for hope and success in the face of so much sadness. The gentleman shared that his mother had facilitated relationships for him with other men. She partnered him with someone in their church who loved and mentored him through his teen years, a relationship that stood on its own, never trying to replace the man he’d lost. 

Many men have stepped forward to offer those kinds of relationships with my sons, and already I was working to provide opportunities for those relationships to grow. What I found most striking though were these words the gentleman wrote: “You should know — my relationship with my mom was key through those years.  I’ll always treasure how close my mom and I were through my high school years.” I’d gone gleaning for answers to solve the problem of my fatherless sons, and I found this reassurance. I knew other men could never replace Rob for my boys, but I’d somehow felt I needed to do that myself. I was reminded that all I have to offer is me. And I have to trust that these loaves and fishes I offer to my boys will be divinely blessed and multiplied to nourish their hearts as they grow up.

This past fall, I bought an NFL radio app so we could listen to the full season of Seahawks games on my phone. (We don’t have — or want — a television or cable.) If a game ended after the boys had gone to bed, I sat and read commentary on the game so I could talk about the big plays with them over breakfast the next morning. Rob always did that over his morning coffee, and I felt it was the least I could do to be an informed sports fan. I attend all their baseball games and pay attention; I even know how to keep score if the team needs me to. I’m not trying to be Rob but to be the best boy mom I can be. When you love someone, you take interest in what they care about.

I can’t wrestle with my sons like Rob used to. I’m not strong enough to swing an ax like he could. But I’m learning there are many things I can do well for my boys. I can jump on them when I wake them up in the morning. I can pack them school lunches that are the envy of their classmates. I can listen to them when they want to talk. I can love them with every fiber of my being. And most of all, I can trust that this will somehow be enough. That my hard work, my faithfulness to a task that often feels insurmountable, these things God will honor.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words of encouragement to his young disciple Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived … in your mother … and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” The best gift I can give my sons is my love for the Lord and my love for them. I need to trust that the little I have to offer will become much in His hands. God’s love for my sons surpasses any love Rob or I ever could have mustered. Before they grew in my womb, He knew this would be their story. And He has good plans in store for them. I need not worry. In life and death, my precious boys are safe in God’s good care.

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