I was a late bloomer. My metronome-like discernment process ticked back and forth throughout my twenties and early thirties: …priesthood…marriage….priesthood….marriage…. By the time Lisa silenced that noise, I had logged roughly fifteen adult years on the sidelines observing parental behaviors. From my seat I watched such things as that familiar, archetypical parent whose ego is way too invested in his son’s ability to field a grounder. I smugly took note of all kinds of parental misbehavior on soccer fields, baseball diamonds, as well as parental parking lot conversations. My internal reaction to parents like this was always consistent: “Get a grip!” “Can’t you see that your own ego is in play as you overly push your own kid, berate umpires, and second guess coaches?” I counted myself among the cohort of enlightened adults who had a grip. When the day came, I knew I would be able to keep my child’s accomplishments, or lack thereof, in proper perspective, or so I thought.
Then the Fourth of July weekend of my son’s sixth year of life happened (that same boy is now eighteen). The brother with whom I am closest in age had a son who is just a month younger than my son. They are really more like brothers than cousins. My little six year old nephew, Daniel, come to find out, had been making some big strides in stuffing his little boy resume with accomplishments.
On that weekend, my brother’s family and my family took a three-day camping trip together. While there, my little nephew was showing off his diving skills on the wooden dock. As he surfaced from under the water, he would come up sputtering, coughing, and gasping, but he would jump right back on the wooden platform for more. My six-year-old, by then, had only recently taken an interest in swimming. You couldn’t get him to jump off of a dock if you floated two “Transformers,” and three “Bionicles” in front of him (i.e. toys that were even more cool than the G.I. Joe’s I played with as a kid).
When it came time for fishing, little Daniel took sunfish and bluegill off of his line with the casual expertise of an outfitter. When my son lifted a fish from the lake, he would call out for his dad to pry the prickly quarry off of his hook. While bike riding, my nephew peddled with the prowess of Mrs. Gultch stealing Toto in the Wizard of Oz. My son was only just beginning to get the hang of balancing and turning his two-wheeler.
On the outside, I made every effort to show pride in my nephew’s accomplishments while simultaneously, and patiently encouraging my own child. Let me tell you what was going on inside of the 45 year old man who owned a framed doctoral degree in counseling married people and their families. I felt Jealousy! My little brother (who was always a better diver than me) also had a son who was a better diver (biker, fisherman) than my son!
I felt inadequate as a father. “What have I been doing wrong?” My insecurity actually caused me to feel negatively judgmental toward my own son. Somewhere inside, a little nasty voice was saying, “Son, where’s your determination?” I discovered that the Little League dad from hell that I had scoffed at, and made fun of from afar had secretly taken up residence within me!
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus described a field that was sown with both wheat and weeds (Matthew 13: 24-43). During that 4th of July weekend three years ago, I encountered at least three kinds of inner weeds that have plagued me in different ways over the years.
What I have discovered about inner weeds like jealousy, self doubt, and insecurity (which, in this case were wrapping themselves like choking vines around my child’s development) is that they are hardy perennials. They cannot be yanked out of the soul with one hard pull.
Each one of us has some perennial inner weed that stubbornly refuses to submit. The trick in dealing with our inner weeds is simply keeping an eye on them. When it comes to the most deeply rooted character flaws, self-awareness and a non-judgemental/compassionate approach to the self are the best psychological herbicides at our disposal. When we can compassionately acknowledge the worst in us, and become aware of its influence, we can keep those weeds from needlessly spreading into our behavior. On those occasions where we slip up and discover that they have germinated into a relationship, we can quickly take ownership and make amends.
This Sunday’s readings ask you to have a look into your inner garden. Do you know what your inner weeds are? Do you know the characteristic ways they show themselves in you? Have you developed ways to contain the invasive species of weeds, while feeding and watering the wheat?