I became a dad this year. Next week my son turns one.
I became a youth minister recently (December 2012).
An enormous number of my growing-up memories happened in these two contexts, that of family and church. Now, fully wise at 30 years old, I’ve been put in charge of cultivating these contexts for new growing-up memories.
It struck me recently that the decisions my wife and I make have an obvious and lasting effect on our son. I don’t mean things like ‘discipline’ or saving for his future. I mean everyday, mundane things that change his life. Rowan was born into a world in which his parents live in Caronport. His mom is a runner and his dad is an academic/coder/minister. The house we arbitrarily chose to rent will be the place where his first childhood memories happen. Sights like our kitchen, my office, the cubby hole under the stairs, the fire pit in the backyard will be etched into his mind, and will be ‘childhood’ to him.
When I think of ‘childhood,’ I remember growing up on the Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, on the old highway 26. I remember the wagon wheels that were at the top of our ½ mile lane, and the “Reyburn Road” sign that always signaled to us that our trip home was nearly over. I played handball in my mom’s music room with my brother, listened to the trickle sounds of water in the birch trees, skated on a homemade rink in the winter, wandered purposefully over our 43 acres, trekked out into the woods with my parents and siblings to chop down a Christmas tree each year, attended a tiny elementary school in the nearest town, and strode with 9-year-old authority amongst my dad’s summer employees.
Those memories were the result of the decisions my parents made regarding where we would live and what kind of life they would pursue.
At church, I got to know youth pastors and leaders who challenged me to think hard about God and scripture, and befriended my fellow youth-groupers -- many of whom I still count as friends decades later. In those years I had lots of sleepovers, Nintendo 64 marathons, school trips and youth group retreats. I had people who helped my teenage brain sort out questions like “Who am I?” and “What should I do with the next 7 or 8 decades of life?”
I’m really grateful for the memories I have. But now it’s my responsibility as a dad and as a youth minister to provide environments that facilitate the creation of childhood. And the weirdest part of all is that it just happens. Whatever the result, it’s impossible to not create childhood for kids. You do no matter what you do. The real question is, How?