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Strong Fathers - Soft Hearts

Strong Fathers - Soft Hearts

Posted by Kenny Vaughan on 25th May 2020

Strong Fathers Show Soft Hearts

“‘No more ice-cream runs,’ I said to the kids. I was not trying to be mean, but it was really the only responsible thing to do.

“My three kids—Faith, Grace, and Kennedy—were nine, six, and two at the time. My wife, Tammie, and I have always liked to do little things with them now and then that are simple but fun and kind of spontaneous. As a result, you never know when a do-nothing evening might turn into a 9 p.m. ice-cream, taco, or french-fry run. My mom used to make similar trips with me and my siblings, and I still remember the excitement of those nighttime excursions. I love sharing those simple adventures with my children, seeing their excitement, and knowing we are making special memories.

“But with three kids, it was inevitable that every single ice-cream run would end up with a mess in my truck. Let’s face it: a child under the age of ten has a one-in-three chance of spilling their ice cream in the vehicle. I had three children under the age of ten, so our chances of a spill were mathematically guaranteed. That was frustrating for me, but before, my truck had been old anyway, so I had thought, What the heck!

“It was family fun. So, after an ice-cream run and the inevitable spills, I would scrub the messes out of the carpet as much as I could. The extra work was worth it. I happily paid the price.

“Now I had a new truck. Now evening food runs and the inevitable spills were going to come at a higher price for me. As I had begun to weigh the cost, it had occurred to me that I might set a bad example for my children if I didn’t take the best possible care of something as nice as my shiny new truck. Plus, I just plain didn’t want any ice-cream spills in my new truck. I didn’t even want any dust in it.

“The only reasonable solution was to stop the ice-cream runs. I knew I needed to announce the new rule immediately. I didn’t want to deal with the drama that would come the next evening at 9 p.m. when someone yelled out, ‘Ice-cream run!’ and I had to say, ‘Negative. No way. Forget it. Not in my new truck.’ Of course, the new rule banning ice-cream runs didn’t go over well, but the kids saw my characteristic ‘I’m-not-budging-on-this’ look in my eye when I made the announcement, so it was disappointing but done with.

“… It was easier for me to stick with the new rule the first few times I had to remind everyone that the ice-cream runs were history, but a few weeks into the deal, I started feeling selfish. I began chewing on the truth: I was taking something from my kids and my family that I liked sharing with them, all because I was afraid of the mess that it might make. So, I started thinking of ways to resume our ice-cream runs without sacrificing the cleanliness of my new truck.

“After a great deal of thought, the only solution I could think of was to put towels down on the floor and in the seats, put the kids in the seats, put towels in their laps, and then caution them about being careful. So, that’s what we did.

“I thought I had it all figured out. The next night, I said the magic words: ‘Hey, how about an ice-cream run?’ The kids looked at me, at each other, then back at me, and asked together, ‘What about your truck, Dad?’ I told them I was sorry for being selfish, that I had thought about everything and had come up with a good idea. We could use towels to protect the truck. Then I talked with them about being careful when eating the ice cream.”

And, away we went, swathed in towels, for an ice cream run. Surprisingly the trip was uneventful and spill free, until…

“I hit the garage door opener, pulled into the garage, and put the truck in park. That’s when it all came undone. Suddenly, big blobs of melting ice cream came flying at me from the back seat, sticky globs of goop sailing through the air between the two front bucket seats in a clear path to the dash. My first thought was that the kids had actually thrown it! I must have turned as red as a beet, and, like an angry lion ready to pounce, I turned around to confront the kids in the back seat.

“I saw that Faith was in her seat holding her and Kennedy’s empty cups. The expression on her face was telling me, ‘It wasn’t me, Daddy. I promise.’ Kennedy was already out of his seat and on the floor, and Grace was holding an empty cup out in front of her with a look on her face that said, ‘Dad, I promise I didn’t mean to.’ Her face looked like she was peering into the eyes of the Grim Reaper.

“I was about to let Grace have it for being so irresponsible, so careless, so inconsiderate, so selfish—and then I would go on to explain how we would never have another ice-cream run again. I turned my head back toward the dash to check the damage to the truck, and that’s when I noticed the ice cream on the dash was melting and running into the cracks around the buttons on my radio. I remembered my last truck had had the same thing happen, and for ten years I had fought with a sticky dash button. If I pushed that button, it might pop back out, or it might stick down, so I would have to hit it over and over to get it to release. Now my new truck was about to have sticky buttons. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want this. All I could think of was to get that melting ice cream out from behind the radio buttons as quickly as possible, and the only way I could think to do that was to start sucking it out.

“I’m a little embarrassed to say that’s just what I did. I wrapped my lips around the buttons and started sucking with all my might. It worked, too! I sucked all that ice cream out. This time, there would be no sticky buttons!

“…The truth is that, at first, I didn’t realize what I was doing. My immediate reactions to the spill were anger, selfish pride, and fear over what the spill would cost me in messing up the truck. The truth is that I was about to chip away at the self-esteem and trust of my children. I was about to model the poorest example of love and self-control for them, and I was about to compromise our relationship and our memories over a little ice cream that had accidentally spilled in my new truck.”

The truth was, I was about to learn, that Kennedy had rolled out of his car seat like we had taught him to do and kicked Grace's ice cream cup out of her hand. And that the spilled ice cream was truly nobody’s fault.

“I am thankful for the distraction of the dash buttons getting pelted with ice cream, because that distraction gave me time for a reality check. Once I had eliminated, to my satisfaction, the dangers of driving another decade fighting with sticky dash buttons, I took a breath and struggled for a rational thought—and it was a struggle. Then everything hit me like a ton of bricks. I was reminded of the lessons I had learned through the years about love and fear: from God’s word, from Tammie, from fifteen years of chasing the dream of winning a national championship as an athlete, and from my mom and dad and family.

“Fear always protects itself without regard for the truth or others. Love always defends the truth and others without regard for itself. I remembered that saying something hurtful could only take a moment, but the weight of those words could last a lifetime. I recalled how love always seeks the truth, but the truth is almost always hidden. I remembered that the only person I could ever lovingly sacrifice was myself.

“People will forget what you say, and they may even forget what you do, but they seldom forget how you make them feel. It is extremely difficult to live lovingly, but it is easy to recognize a loving sacrifice when we see it. I wanted my kids to enjoy ice-cream runs and, as adults, be able to look back and cherish the memories of those times. I realized I was about to sacrifice all that for my truck and that I was acting and reacting as if I had never learned anything at all. I was letting fear push love right out the truck window.

“For me, that night’s cup of ice cream was tasting bittersweet, turning sourer by the minute as I considered the truth. I knew that I would burn that truck every day for the rest of my life before I would purposely hurt my kids, my precious Grace, Faith, and Kennedy. I thought about

“I saw before me a choice: I could sacrifice the cleanliness of my truck and continue the ice-cream runs with my family, which would be the loving thing to do, or I could scream at Grace, act unlovingly toward my family, and take the ice-cream runs away again, which would be the selfish thing to do. In the end, the choice was clear. I would sacrifice my truck rather than my family any day.

“The funny thing is that my decision cost me something then but continues to benefit me and my family to this day. We had another talk about no more flipping out of the car seat when ice cream or drinks were present, and we have enjoyed those ice-cream runs ever since.”

It’s a good thing, because during the long weeks of quarantine, these family treat runs in my truck have not only been a fun way to continue to create good memories and keep family traditions in this difficult time, but they serve as a reminder to all of us that love seeks the truth, always considers the well-being of others over self; and what it may cost you in the short term is always worth it in the long run.

Maybe Father’s Day, we’ll make an ice cream run in my truck.

Laus Deo,