Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Yesterday was the second day in a row that we have had to deal with one of our youngest children (the first to arrive, in fact) with the issues of stealing and lying. The day before yesterday involved the theft of his older brother's wallet and the perpetual series of lies that go with such a theft.

Yesterday's infractions involved his theft of more than $20 from our bedroom, his departure from a friend's house and his arriving late enough that he "had" to miss football practice. He arrived home as I was driving Ricardo to football practice and managed to limp only when he saw my car approaching. His story was quite amusing if it were not such a bold-faced lie. On his way home up the very steep hill from his friend's house (it is, in fact a very steep grade of about a half mile) he happened to step on the tail of a squirrel, which turned around and bit him so hard on the ankle that he could barely walk. He could certainly not go to football practice after such an animal encounter.

If I had not been so irritated about the thievery I could probably have handled the lie a little better than I did. As it was I gave him a verbal lashing and pointed out how ludicrous his account was. "In your whole life, Tony, have you ever been close enough to touch a squirrel?" He shook his head to disagree with the statement but would not relent on the details of his story.

Later last night I asked Claudia, "How long do you think it will be that we have to live with the chaos of willfully disobedient children in our lives?" Her response, which I have since forgotten, did not lead me to believe things will change anytime soon.

This morning, then, when I opened up an email you can imagine my surprised when I read this immortal quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietszche (in Beyond Good and Evil, 1886):

The essential thing 'in heaven and in earth' is, apparently (to repeat it once more), that there should be long OBEDIENCE in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living; for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality -- anything whatever that is transfiguring, refined, foolish, or divine.
Funny. The only thing I remember about Nietszche from my college philospohy classes twenty years ago is his hypotheses about the will to power. I didn't remember how helpful his words might be to frustrated parents.

His words remind me again today that the most significant obedience required for my children has more to do with my willingness to do the right thing (a rough understanding of "obedience") than with theirs. For an adoptive parent of kids with tough issues, it has more to do with my commitment to always be their father, no matter what, than it does with their ability or willingness to make the right choices for their lives.

This long obedience in the same direction is my issue, not my children's. In spite of all they have and may do in the future, they need to know that I am not going anywhere, that I will always be a presence in their life (whether they like it or not), that I will always confront their antisocial actions or words, and that I am their permanent father. Perhaps they will one day be able to learn from my example of persistence and commitment and become the adults the world will require them to be.

It's kind a back-to-basics learning day for me. I cannot make my children do anything. I can only decide how I am going to live and trust that they will see in my life something of value that they too will one day emulate.


MG said...

Found your blog as I was clicking around. Loved your post about the parent's responsibility. My children are all still young, but I see it already--I have to be ready to make the long haul, or there's no way they will be.

Anonymous said...


I think this is one of the hardest lessons for us. The youngest child we adopted was two (three at finalization) and the oldest being nine. We learned to deal with the same issues of lying, stealing and many others that I am sure you are familiar with.

Yet , there was always hope and even expectation that after 10 years with us, that they would change. The disppointment to see them doing the same things is discouraging. We try to remind ourselves of this important truth you shared with us in this post.

Were getting better at it, but it is very hard sometimes. On the postive note, considering where they started, Our adopted children are doing very well (by God's grace). Jenni and I have to work on reminding ourselves about how far they have come, instead of what they are doing wrong.