Have you seen the Home Depot commercial about the son who wants his father to build him a tree house? That commercial nauseates me. In case you haven't seen it, here's the gist of it. A boy about eight years old brags to his friends that his dad's a genius. He tells his pals that his dad can do anything -- that he can build anything.
The boy doesn't know it, but his dad's all thumbs when it comes to construction. His dad doesn't know the difference between a level and a plumb bob. But he goes down to the local Home Depot store and meets with a salesman anyway. He pulls the tree house plans from his back pocket and confesses to the salesman he doesn't know anything about construction. Ah, but he's in luck. His salesman apparently has reserved his afternoon for holding this man by the hand and helping him pick out every single item he's going to need to build his tree house and in the process gives him a crash course in Carpentry 101.
The man leaves Home Depot with a big smile on his face and all the tools and lumber he needs. The commercial ends by showing the outside of the tree house, which looks better than many houses I've seen on the ground, and an inside view of the tree house with father and son lying on the floor together, hands behind their heads, basking in the satisfaction of the finished product. The little tyke thanks his dad. I suppose every dad with a kid is supposed to get warm fuzzies and head to Home Depot.
I have a suspicion the producer of this commercial works for Disney World. He's into fantasies, illusions, and filling kids' heads with make-believe. He'll probably be hired by a national auto parts store next, showing a dad walk into the store and inquire about engines because his son wants him to build a race car, even though he's never looked under the hood of an automobile before. As the hopeful dad leaves the store with parts in hand, the commercial will end with the kid driving the race car around his house, the car having been built by his dad, of course.
One thing the Home Depot commercial did get right: there is a stage in kids' lives when they think their dads are geniuses and can do whatever they want to do. Although I still have such a high view of my dad, reality set in for my kids when they turned about nine. I knew they were moving to a different stage when I begin to hear these words, "That's O.K., Dad. I'll take it to Mom." Or, "That's O.K., Dad. I'll fix it myself."
I know the difference between a plumb bob and a level. I even have a decent set of tools. But having the tools and being able to use them are two separate matters. I could do a fine job of using my tools to tear down a tree house but don't ask me to build one. If it did get built, my kids wouldn't be lying around admiring the view or bragging to their friends about how smart their dad is. Chances are they would request that we move to a new neighborhood or at least cut down the tree.
My kids are realists now. They figured out years ago that I'm gifted in different ways than their grandfathers and that I'm no genius. When we go to Home Depot, my older son's the one with the ideas and the plans. I follow him around.
Several weeks ago as we had our morning devotion, the boys wanted to discuss a recent family trip where I lost my patience and was angry with one of my boys -- with good reason, of course. The boys seemed to think it was an example of my imperfections as a father and they wanted to talk about it. Although it felt like I was on trial, I allowed my kids to express what was on their minds.
I took the opportunity to confess to my boys what they already knew -- that I wasn't perfect and that sometimes my decisions regarding them were not perfect either. But I reminded them that they were far from perfect, too. And although I don't always do things in the very best of ways, I told them I am always on their side, trying to help grow them into adults who will be gentlemen, loving and responsible, productive and goal oriented, and God-fearing.
After some good conversation, the ve
rdict came from my older son: "I guess we don't need a perfect dad," he said. "We know you just want what's best for us." At that point I sort of felt like the dad at the end of the Home Depot commercial. I knew I had made an impression. I hadn't built the great tree house, but I knew I was building something much more important, an understanding with my sons. I had gotten through.
None of us dads are perfect. We all make mistakes. But the one mistake we cannot afford to make is to think that just because we fathered a child and walk into our homes day after day, we are automatically training up a child in the way he or she should go. (Proverbs 22:6) Unless we spend time with our children and enter into meaningful conversations with them that grow and change as they grow and change, soon they will not only learn we don't know everything; they will also learn that we don't know them. They can forgive us for not being geniuses, for losing our patience, and for not being perfect. They will have a much harder time forgiving us for not knowing them and being there for them.
The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.