Last Monday I had the opportunity to take my ten-year-old son, Sylvester, with me on the long, flat, and all too familiar trip from our house to East Lansing. I say opportunity because usually the boy is wrapped up in young boy stuff like racing computer animated cars through downtown L.A. on his smart phone, or telling anyone who will hear him about every feature available on a 1971 Corvette.
To say the least, he is not typically interested in things like boring, do nothing road bonding with dear ole dad. Don’t get me wrong, he’s all about wrestling, playing, laughing at funny noises, riding his dirt bike or whatever, but focused talk time opportunities are not on the top of his list.
Times like these a rare commodity with this young man. And as his short childhood years rush by, finding chances to impart fatherly wisdom (mixed with the more than the occasional dad joke) on my kids becomes like panning for gold in the muddy waters of a small stream, turned raging river by the warm spring snow melt. So, needless to say, when he asked if he could stow away for the trip, I smiled quietly.
Really, I was just looking forward to spending a little hard-to-come-by alone time with my oldest boy, but I had no idea how rewarding the ride would be. The conversation started just as I knew it would:
I learned more about cars in the first ten minutes than I had known since I was ten years old myself. I always smile at just how similar he and I really are. At some point, the conversation turned to the subject of school, friends, and the future.
My son was asking some really great questions! He told me he found a new friend at school, Ronald. He said, “I like sitting with Ronald. He is helps me stay organized.” (He has had issues with a messy desk and lost homework) “I didn’t lose one assignment this week! I want to make more friends like Ronald.”
Struck by the wisdom of my young son’s words, I said, “That sounds like an awesome idea.” Then asked, “are there any other kids like Ronald in your class?”, proudly wondering how he would answer.
“Yeah, not very many, but my teacher says that friends are about quality not quantity.”
At this point I couldn’t have held back my smile if I tried. “Sounds like a pretty wise teacher,” I resounded.“He is,” my boy said as a matter of fact, “he gives life lessons.” I was thinking to myself now this is the type of educator we need in our schools. Having my son’s ear, and a deeply meaningful conversation going, I decided to seize the chance at a teachable moment.
“Son, do you know the difference between wisdom and being smart?”
“Not really.” I could see that he was waiting eagerly to hear the difference.
I said, “wisdom is knowing what choices to make and having the discipline to make them. Being smart is just intelligence.” I went on with my explanation, “some of the smartest people I know make some of the worst choices. I would take average intelligence and wisdom over being the smartest guy in the room any day.”
“You mean like if a smart person makes a really good plan to do something bad, right?”, I thought, now we’re talking! “That’s exactly right son,” I said, “you could have a super-smart plan to rob a bank, or whatever, but the choice is still not a wise one.
There was a king in the Bible, Solomon, who was the richest king of them all, but before he became the king, he didn’t ask God for riches or power, he asked for wisdom, which God gave him. And because of his wise decisions, he became the richest most powerful king in all the world. If there is any one thing you should go after in life, it’s wisdom.
Wise choices are more valuable than the coolest car, the most friends, or any amount of money. The best way to become wise, son, is to learn, learn from everything. Every mistake and every success. Never forget a lesson, and never stop looking for one.
“Kind of like when I win a hard race on X-Box, and I save my game so I don’t have to learn it again?” His statement was more of a question, “I save it in my memory, right?” I was ecstatic! “Son, that is exactly what I mean! If you can to that, life will be good for you. If you can learn not to make the same mistake twice, you never touch drugs, and you treat people the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll be just fine.”
“I like this.” He said. …and back to talking about cars. Yesterday, he came up to me with a worksheet from school (long division). He said, “I don’t get it dad.”
Remembering how I figured out my daughter’s high-school algebra, I asked, “when you can’t figure out one of your games, what do you do?” hoping I had dodged a bullet -as it would probably take me longer to learn the math than it would take to teach it to him.
“Watch a video on you tube.” He answered and ran to grab his phone. About fifteen minutes later, he gave me a lesson on how to do long division and said, “from now on, if I can’t figure out my math, I’ll watch a video. They have good teachers on You Tube. …That’s wisdom, right dad?” “That is wisdom, son.” In that moment, I gained some wisdom of my own.
I may not be the smartest dad in the world, and I don’t claim to be the wisest by any means, but I will never forget the value of a teachable moment because in that instant, I could see a value in wisdom beyond any other treasure.
It is in that precious parenting moment that I realized: I had gained far more wisdom from the mouth of a babe (child) than I could hope to share with him!
I am so unbelievably thankful and undeniably humbled for the blessings of parenthood. Truly, my children are the pinnacle of God’s beautiful grace.
There is no greater wisdom than that which is formed out of responsibility.