When I started homeschooling, not only was I the only full-time father in my community, and the only homeschooling father in my community, I was the only homeschooling single-father that I had ever heard of.
Sometimes it was met with encouragement, sometimes with derision, usually with bafflement. “How little,” I imagined them saying, “must such a man consider his own masculinity?” Maybe the breed of masculinity that is preoccupied with its own public image is not worth having at all. Learning a sense of masculinity that centered on moral courage, I tuned out the gossip and turned to my responsibilities.
1. Get up Early; Sleep in the Wasted Evening
When my toddler was my alarm clock, I always seemed to wake up cranky. I wasn’t starting my day. The day was starting me. I knew I had to start getting up before him. For a few months, that meant inflicting an alarm app on myself at 4:30 am that would not turn off unless I took a picture of my kettle. Because I was starting the day earlier, I started sleeping earlier too, instead of wiling the evening away on Netflix. After a few weeks, I was awake enough at 6am to apply myself to something before the kids got up. I could use the time to…
2. Read Like My Life Depends on it
Having emerged from a tricky degree in theology, I thought the intellectual side of homeschooling would be a breeze. I was wrong. I encountered problems that could only be surmounted with careful reading and examination of my principles. Must my daughter stick to the literature assigned to her age? I had to create time for myself to think and read about it. With Sonlight Advisors on the other end of a phone line, I was in a better position than some to tackle these questions.
3. Use Failure to Connect
After months of discussing Aesop’s Fables, Sonlight’s daily Bible readings in the History, Bible and Literature program, and the discussion questions for the literature in the Instructor’s Guide, I noticed that the curriculum was inviting us to examine our life. Taking the invitation, I was seeing things about my heart that I’d rather not see. I could either hide my impatience, hubris, fragility, or I could make a habit of facing it with my children. I started the daily habit of apologizing for my own wrongdoing.
4. The Compromises of Young Kids are Temporary
It takes a certain frame of mind to bear the mental burden of caring for an under-five-year-old in the long term. One is expected to listen to countless impassioned cries and respond with perfect equanimity. It takes a strong sense of hope to continue doing so at all, let alone with purpose and creativity. I’ll admit that on some evenings it felt like the impositions of my needful children were walling me in. But, “Follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it” (A Door in the Wall, p16).
When I keep the end in sight, suddenly the wall is no longer walling me in. Walls mark a city to be defended, just as the impositions of my children mark a sacred life to be cherished. I will man the walls.
5. Less Is More
I started to think seriously about toys when my three-year-old ignored his gifted toy truck in favour of the cardboard box. I experimented with keeping all the toys upstairs, and ditching the TV. They spent more time in rewarding imaginative play, and I spent less time officiating disputes. What I learned about curating an environment became crucial for understanding how to direct a child’s attention during lessons.
6. Call My Friends
I always knew that crises test friendships. What I didn’t understand until I had my own personal crisis, is that I actually have to call my friends.
7. When I Rest, Rest
With three little hearts in my sole care, I felt that if I looked away for a moment, chaos would ensue. Every moment I spent with them was spent focused on keeping order. I could be with the kids every hour of the day, without spending a single moment with them. My Atlas-complex begged the question of what I loved more: my children or my to-do-list. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to take the sabbath seriously and to set apart a day for unbroken rest.
8. Take My Shoes and Socks off
Everything my children do without prompting, I had to relearn as strategies for mental health. I turned my phone off and went on barefoot adventures. Removing artifice helped me ground myself. I relearned how to play and cry and adventure and sing and feel untrod soil under my toes. I wanted to prevent myself from closing in on myself, in bitter rumination. I wanted to leave myself open to feel the world. As if my toes were roots, seeking soil to re-root an uprooted family.
We will always remember reading Red Sails to Capri by bonfire-light on one of those adventures, or A Door in the Wall, leaning against the ruins of a 12th century manor house in England. We were planting our learning in the world- in the old earth. They were crucial successes in the business of re-rooting.
9. Lift Up the Boy
Ishmael is born in Genesis 16 amongst hatred, self-importance and recrimination. When he was left in the desert to die, the news was brought to his mother by an angel who said, ““God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”” God listened, and His lovingkindness was Ishmael’s, “Door in the wall.”
My days as a single-father bear the scars of sin and sickness. Every one of those days I hear the command to, “Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand.” God has promised to heal, even the gruesome wounds of sin in my family. Even when the, “Door in the wall” is difficult to make out, I commit myself to “follow the wall far enough.” I will “lift up the boy.”