In the March-April print issue of NGJ magazine, you read the article “Be a Door Opener Not a Door Shutter.” This is a follow-up, also taken from a book in progress, Traditional Child Training.

You cannot be the No Daddy; you must be the Go Daddy. Don’t just fence him off from evil influences; open the door to a world that is more exciting and promising than anything the world has to offer.

Recently a father drove his truck up alongside of me while I was grading the driveway and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. I pulled the tractor over to the side of the lane, and he parked his truck beside me. I sat in the tractor seat and he leaned against the grill of the truck as he began to express his concerns. This is country pastoral counseling at its finest.

This father has two grown girls, now married and having children of their own. They are his beautiful fruit, but his garden is not fully harvested. He has children not yet in their teens. He started out by saying, “I have done well raising girls; it was easy. But I am uncertain about how to relate to a boy who will be going through puberty pretty soon.” I could understand his consternation. Raising girls and raising boys are as different as raising fainting rabbits and wolf pups. Girls can become a problem if they are not made to feel loved and secure and protected from the world, but, with rare exception, boys are going to be a problem no matter what—to various degrees. His son is only about seven years old, so now is the time to make course corrections. It could be too late by the time he turns thirteen and turns on to his maleness.

Young life is a constant process of discovery. The world is filled with wonder. Take your son (and your daughters) into the thrill of learning and doing.

The father asked, “What can I do now to make sure I have his heart?” He understood the issue. There is no way to impart to a child the wisdom and skills he will need to cope with the world when the lights start flashing and the world’s door swings open to him. He will need continual guidance until he becomes a man. If a father doesn’t have his son’s heart, the boy will pass it around until someone or something locks it up in a dirty place. Father will stand outside weeping, wondering where he went wrong, wishing he had made a course correction when his son was seven years old.

So at this critical moment in this father’s life, I needed to give him a simple answer that would point him in the right direction. I answered, “To keep his heart you must be a door opener and not a door shutter. You must be his most vital source of all things interesting and exciting. He must value a relationship with you because he sees you as an open door to all the good things life has to offer.”

He asked, “How do I protect him from worldliness?”

jumping shipYour son may interpret your protection as shutting doors. It is a negative response. You cannot be the No Daddy; you must be the Go Daddy. Don’t just fence him off from evil influences; open the door to a world that is more exciting and promising than anything the world has to offer. If you give your son a life of promise you need not be concerned that someone peddling a lesser product will steal his heart.

Young life is a constant process of discovery. The world is filled with wonder. Take your son (and your daughters) into the thrill of learning and doing. Kids love to be good at something—anything. They feel good about themselves when they are succeeding, when they are winning, mastering, developing skills, and conquering. A happy child will climb to the top of any dirt pile and think himself the better for it. A group of kids will play “king on the mountain” seeing who can stay on top and push everyone else off. If you are the parent always saying, “Don’t get your clothes dirty…play nice…get down from there you might get hurt…” you will be the door shutter and they will not enjoy your presence. But if you laugh yourself silly over their antics and brag on the way your little man tumbled from the top of the dirt pile with minimal scrapes and bruises, encouraging him to try again, he will always want his number-one fan around.

You must be his most vital source of all things interesting and exciting. He must value a relationship with you because he sees you as an open door to all the good things life has to offer.

If they are taking piano or violin, they will expect you to arrange for company to sit down while they perform. They want the applause. If there is no applause in your home, you are in danger of losing the hearts of your children.

When my two youngest daughters, Shalom and Shoshanna, were about nine and eleven years old they decided to investigate an idea we had entertained for several years. We live in Middle Tennessee in an area of limestone ridges. Our 12-acre bottomland pasture is bordered by a ridge about 100 feet tall. During the cold winters, we observed that the area around a gopher hole would be covered with ice crystals. I had often commented that it indicated a deep hole, perhaps a cave. So on a fine summer day the girls decided to take shovel and pick and discover their very own—never before seen by human eyes—cave. After about four hours of digging nearly straight down, they encountered solid limestone rock, but the gopher hole continued through a large crack. I went out to check on their progress and was amazed that they had moved about two yards of dirt. They had made a hole three feet by three feet wide and six feet deep—big enough to bury three cows. They were about ready to give up, so I showed excitement over their progress and stayed to help them by hauling the dirt out of the hole with a bucket. The next day I stopped to check on their progress several times and found them tunneling under the big rock. They got so deep it became difficult to remove the dirt, so they gave up. About a week later I had a backhoe on the property for another purpose and directed the operator to dig out the dirt that blocked their progress. He cleared the way about ten feet deep, moving some big rocks the size of small cars that had slid off the ridge during Noah’s flood. They now had direct, horizontal access to the gopher hole under the rock and continued digging. But as they dug further back under the rock they had to go deeper as well. After about a week of further excavation, gaining about fifteen feet with shovel and pick, they discovered a stalactite hanging from the rock above. They were thrilled and I was too. Now they were digging straight back in a narrow, well weathered corridor that showed signs of long exposure to running water.

strong in spirit

They were having trouble in the confined space, so I made some short-handled tools and a sliding pan on which to place the dirt they dug. Taking turns, they crawled into the narrow hole and filled the pan with dirt. I would drag it out and empty it, and they would pull it back in with a second rope tied to it. They were now about 20 feet deep into the rock and discovered a stalactite and stalagmite blocking their path—proof of a cave of some sort.

We were over-the-top excited, but we conspired to keep it a secret because the boys had been making fun of the girls—and of me for helping them. They would say things like, “The only cave is the one the girls are digging.” It was hard to keep from telling them, but the mystery made it all the more adventuresome.

We hated to do it, but we broke the stalactite so progress could continue. They eventually moved enough dirt to allow both of them into the tunnel at the same time. By then I was dedicating several hours a day to helping them because I was confident there was a cave concealed behind all that dirt.

Become your child’s partner in wonder and you will not be left wondering why they departed.

Then one afternoon both girls were deep in the tunnel, flashlights visible, the sound of shovel and pick, and I heard one of the girls excitedly exclaim, “The dirt is falling the other way!” I screamed, “Be careful!” And then their lights disappeared and their excited voices were muffled. I admit, I about panicked. I thought they might have fallen in a hole. After about a minute a light reappeared in the dark tunnel and I could see Shalom’s face about 25 feet away. She was beside herself with joy. “It is a big cave full of stalagmites and stalactites, and what looks like a frozen waterfall!”

As the two girls came scurrying out of the cave, their faces shined with a joy and exhilaration that I will never forget. I calmed them down and we discussed how to break the news to the world. The two boys and their mocking friends were our primary targets. How to make the most out of it was our concern. So we waited until dinner time, when everyone was sitting around the table and one of the boys condescendingly asked, “So, how’s the cave digging going? You guys get to China yet?” One of the girls, continuing to eat, answered without looking up, “No, we are now exploring deeper; we think it is a about a mile deep but stalactites are blocking our path. We are searching for a way around them now.” The boys laughed like it was a good joke designed to cover up their failure, but the other girl offered additional comment, and I coolly agreed with their assessment.

We had them. The boys were suspended between belief and doubt. We milked it for all we could get, causing them to commit to their unbelief while we matter-of-factly, like it was a routine discovery, one we never doubted, continued to give the details. Like Peter and John running to the tomb to confirm their unbelief, the boys ran down the lane to prove the girls wrong, and the girls and I ran right behind them, carrying the flashlights and lanterns. The boys hastily crawled down the long confining entrance to emerge into a beautiful world of ivory-colored formations branching out in six or eight directions, winding and twisting, sometimes rising above and then dipping down to the former level. It was labyrinth of delightful discovery. How sweet it was! Now the girls burst into exciting recounts of all their experiences.

It was their cave. They guarded it, making sure no one broke any of the formations; nothing could be removed. It was the first time human eyes had ever beheld these wonders of God’s creation.

Now, as I reflect back on this event in our family, I realize that I was not following some principle of child training. I was their door opener, their partner in discovery, the instigator of a journey into wonder, but it was part of my soul to want to delight my daughters, to stimulate them in an adventure. I enjoyed their pleasure better than any pleasure I could instigate for myself.

Now, it is unlikely that any of you will ever have the opportunity to discover a cave. I know that was a unique experience. But understand, there were a thousand other common experiences that produced that same camaraderie of discovery, that walk in wonderland, resulting in a bond between parent and child. Taking time out to build a swing, to set up a swimming pool, to teach them to dive or turn a flip, to laugh at their antics and brag on their accomplishments—all these things make you a door opener in the child’s life. Become your child’s partner in wonder and you will not be left wondering why he departed.