Dear Connected Families family,
I write to you today with a heavy, but hopeful, heart. The reason? My dad passed away on October 14th, and his funeral was October 25th. His passing was expected, but came much faster than we anticipated based on the doctor’s prognosis. Because several friends have suggested that his legacy is linked to my ongoing ministry, I thought it fitting to share a bit about my relationship with my dad.
Dad was a classic “work-hard, play hard, let mom care for the kids” kind of dad. He was also very intense – about work, hobbies, love, little things, big things, and life in general. (Obituary here). Growing up, I was enamored with Dad. Though his intense affection was rare, his energized play captivated me. However, Dad’s big emotions and expressions were unpredictable, and sometimes volatile. So I was scared of him too. Scared in the kind of way an adventurous child might be when wandering after dark in mostly familiar surroundings. I knew I was ultimately safe, but was never sure what I might run into. Sometimes I ran into his big emotions, and sometimes it hurt. As I grew into my teen years I allowed my fear to turn to resentment as more of my interaction with dad was in the “unsafe” zone.
As a young adult I let this negative thinking about Dad create distance and even bitterness between him and me. It even got to the point that one day, as I was about to head to college, he sincerely apologized for how he’d let me down as a dad. I couldn’t receive it.
For several years I rejected the best he knew how to do. I couldn’t recognize that in many ways he’d done the best he knew how all his life. But when it came to being a dad, what he knew how to do wasn’t ideal. Except, he did know how to love when I needed it most. This insight took me years and even a fair bit of therapy to recognize. I came to see that when it came to the big stuff, dad was always there, consistently loving and showing grace. It’s just that there was so much small stuff in between that I came to define myself and our relationship by the many little hurts inflicted along the way.
I know that in a lot of ways my story resonates with many of you. Dad’s everyday best to show his love wasn’t very good and his efforts to “teach me a lesson” mostly taught me to stay away from him. I hear stories most weeks from parents who describe resentments like this between themselves and their parents.
That’s where my story takes a different turn, and I was able to change my mind about Dad.
Along the way, as Lynne and I developed the Connected Families Framework and messages of grace for parents to help their kids, it dawned on us that the same principles applied to broken relationships with our parents.
If I had a strong foundation in Jesus, and was able to let go of my resentment, then I could share the message, “you are SAFE with me.” That way, even if my relationship with my dad was not OK, I could go to him as an agent of God’s grace and reconciliation.
If he was open, and he was, then I could connect with him, letting him know “you are LOVED no matter what.” We went fishing (it didn’t hurt that I was pretty good finding and catching fish), watched major sports events, spent time in the great outdoors, and sometimes had lunch or just hung out for no other reason than to be together. It was hard sometimes because he didn’t have the tools needed to make changes and he still did some of the hurtful things he’d always done. But I learned to tell myself that he’s doing the best he knows how. If I could stay graceful, perhaps I could recognize what he did well in the midst of his struggles.
I worked on acknowledging and complimenting all the things he did well that I recalled from the past. (In order to communicate the message, “You are CALLED and CAPABLE.“) This helped me begin to see that he did some big things REALLY well when I was younger. Including the day he quietly had mercy for my big blunder with a car. Or the time I forgot his training and ran a snowmobile into a tree. More grace. (Read “How Will Your Kids Remember Your Discipline When They’re 90”)
The more I focused on communicating to Dad that he’s safe, loved, and capable, the more my view of him changed. It turns out HE had been trying to express those things all along to ME, just not in the ways that I was able to interpret well when I was young.
This brings me to my calling.
I have come to understand that my dad had great intentions for our relationship, he just didn’t have the tools needed to make sure I understood and believed those intentions. By God’s grace our relationship was restored. However, I can’t help but wonder what might have been different in Dad’s life (and in mine) had he gained the tools as a young dad to better communicate and guide me in those good intentions. God’s work to restore our relationship gave me great insight into how to protect relationships from enduring such hardship. So, in great part, my dad’s life and now his passing, inspire me to do what I can to equip you, as parents, with tools to Connect with, Coach, and Correct your kids while passing on God’s truth.
Blessings as you lead your family with grace,
Jim “Little Jimmy” Jackson
Co-founder of Connected Families
Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one-hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.