When I was a younger father, I kept noticing the same curious thing happening to me. I’d be in public with one of my kids who was under the age of five. A nose would start to run, or some tears would start to flow accompanied by some urgent request. And so, I would pull out a tissue and wipe a nose, or, reach into a back-pack and hand out a tear suppressant like a bagel, or juice box. Next thing you know, I would look up to find some strange woman staring at me, looking as if she had just finished watching Marley and Me. It was not uncommon for that same woman to walk over to me, and say something like, “You are such a great dad!”
Based upon these experiences, I have been tempted to create a consulting business for single men longing to be un-single. My one and only trademarked strategy would be to create a child lending library in which my client (a single man seeking a mate) would “check out” a small child for several hours. The faux-parent/suitor would be instructed to take his temporary niece or nephew to a single woman roosting area. Next, he would do nothing more than take care of that child’s needs in the presence of an eligible bachelorette. I am convinced that my patented new strategy would turn even the most wart-encrusted, conversation-killing, personal-hygiene-lacking, tobacco-spitting, Major League Baseball-style scratching…toad…into the most handsome prince. Move over “E-Harmony,” and “Match.Com, here comes “DocTom.Com’s Fisher’s of Women” dating service.”
Over the years, I was amazed at how the simplest little act of parenting that I performed received such rave reviews from any woman within eye, or ear-shot. When I first started noticing this phenomenon of getting praise for nothing more than parenting, I found myself wondering, “Why am I getting gold medals for simply doing a fraction of what most moms do every day?”
And then I thought back to my own childhood. On Saturday mornings, my three younger brothers and I would awaken to a smorgasbord of cartoons and breakfast cereals. A quarter cup of sugar per bowl could transform even my mom’s most healthy cereal into the equivalent of Captain Crunch. After several hours of gorging ourselves on carbohydrates and consecutive viewing, Bob, Mike, Danny and I would move on to some outdoor form of Saturday morning entertainment. My two older sisters, who, by then, had adopted the sleep patterns of adolescence, would awaken to find themselves elbow deep in a mess created by their Animal House younger brothers
That same dynamic played itself out when the Arizona cousins made their much-anticipated yearly visit. This was the one and only time of year when huge quantities of soda, and party food were replenished for a full week as relatives cycled in and out of our house to see the yearly guests of honor. My brothers and I would play all day long with our cousins until we flopped into bed, worn out from a day of consecutive leisure activities. Years later, I was to learn that my sisters did not share the same enthusiasm for these visits. Come to find out, those who took care of the “indoor chores” found that during these cousin visits, hours were subtracted from their playtime, and added to their workload.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1: 29-39) began with the story of how Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was delivered of a fever through Jesus’ miraculous intervention. The moment she was healed, she bounced up and began waiting on people. On one level, I assume that this selection is aimed at showing the Christian community the proper response to Jesus’ healing touch. In the words of Bob Dylan, “We gotta serve somebody.” On another level, I can’t help but think of how it is that in so many families, there is usually someone who carries most of the weight of family responsibility on her shoulders. I say, “her,” because in my experience, that is often the way it is.
Like my family of origin, girls are frequently the ones who have received the lion’s share of socialization to be the care-providers. And so, when an aging parent’s powers start to diminish, it is frequently the daughter who receives the lioness’s ‘s share of responsibility for eldercare. When some form of chaos hits the extended family, you will frequently find some mother, aunt, or grandmother, who is willing to yolk that responsibility onto her own shoulders.
As a counselor, I meet these kinds of women when their spiritual or emotional knees have begun to buckle under the weight of their towering commitments. Often the miraculous intervention that is needed for these worn out women is to teach them how to set appropriate boundaries. But in other instances, a little investigation reveals that this responsible soul is the only firewall between neglect and appropriate care for someone. If they don’t do it, no one will.
For anyone who finds herself (or himself) in that predicament, did you notice what Jesus did in this Sunday’s Gospel when his “to do” list was pressing down on his shoulders. He went on a mini-retreat to a “lonely place.” In other passages, you will find Jesus stealing away for a little rest and relaxation at Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ house.
If you find that in your life, you are patterning yourself after Jesus the servant, will you also consider new ways to pattern your life after the one who regularly practiced limit setting and self-nurture?