This weekend, after years of faithful companionship, I gave away my schnauzer.
Some readers will remember Pepper as the adopted dog who made a poor first impression with my family, but she liked me, so she stayed 10 years. But recently, after several pungent accidents, I’ve given her to a more patient family.
Or so they seemed more patient. A few days after the blissful arrangement, I received an annulment request. It seems that Pepper was barking 24/7 and snapping at the woman’s 8-year-old son, so the family has since returned her.
The situation reminded me of the warped humor I’ve used on my college-age birth daughter, “Honey,” I told her one day after her 10th call home for money, “it’s time we told you the truth. You’re adopted, but the family gave you back.”
Wondering when and if it is time to give up on a relationship is a most perplexing question.
Nearly every relationship struggles over the question of quitting. Couples examine divorce. Employees and employers seek terminations. Cousins appear on “Springer” introducing evidence of wrongdoing as proof that it’s time to find someone new.
Relationships are complicated, and it’s normal to ask: What evidence do I need to produce? What wrong do I have to endure? What level of hurt do I have to endure before I can qualify for a commutation of this imprisoning relationship? My dog brought me similar questions.
The problem was that we got Pepper at the same time we adopted three siblings, and this fact sparked a question from a life-long friend: “How are your children feeling about this? Are they going to think you’d like to give them away, too?”
Posed in a joking way, my friend inadvertently exposed a real issue for some parents. What happens when the relationship you are ready to end is with your child?
Maybe your kid has done it all — drugs, sex, gangs and even murder, and you’re ready to give up on them. Or maybe your child has never done any of these things, yet you’re ready to give up because of the way he treats you or the way she disrespects your faith or values.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a story about Abraham and his son Isaac. These are the two who went up the mountain skipping like Jack and Jill, but Abe was on a bizarre mission from God.
God told Abe to slay his son on that mountain to prove his faithfulness to God. At first glance, the story seems like the tale of a manic-depressive God. God’s happy one moment and homicidal the next.
Fortunately, just before Abe was ready to slay his son, God provided a lamb in Isaac’s place.
To slay a son, one has to be prepared to slay one’s own image. Somehow, I think Abe learned that by relinquishing the image of himself that he had projected into Isaac. Isaac became free to become the much bigger person that God had intended.
I knew a kid who folks said looked a lot like his father. Yet, he continued to disappoint his father each time the police showed up at their home and each time he was suspended for fighting at school.
So, the father began to relinquish the image he had for his son and released the care of his son back to God. His son was allowed to make several more mistakes, but they were his mistakes, and they led him on his own faith journey.
And guess what? Once dad let go, I turned out OK.
Relinquishing that image that we’ve placed in our children can’t be done without practicing forgiveness. Anne Lamott, author of “Traveling Mercies,” says, “Families are the training ground for forgiveness.” She says if you learn to forgive families, you can learn to forgive anyone. It’s like learning to drive a stick shift — after that you can drive anything.
Sometimes we are no more able to choose our relationships than we are able to choose who rides with us in our office elevator. Like elevators, families can sometimes feel claustrophobic, and there comes a point where we’d like to discard a few family members between the mezzanine and a rooftop ledge, but we are meant to make the journey together.
As I sat typing this column in the library on my laptop, I became aware of a pretty redheaded lady staring at me. In the Walter Mitty part of my mind, I get these stares a lot, but I wasn’t prepared for it happening in real life.
Finally, a bit self-conscious, I returned her stare with a perfunctory smile, mumbling, “How ya doin’?”
“Cute kids,” she said.
“These picture stickers on your laptop lid?” she quizzed. “I assume they’re yours?”
“Oh, yeah. Thanks, but I think I’m keeping ’em.”