Have you ever looked up and found your kids doing something both unexpected and not encouraging?
The other day while I was remodeling my kitchen I looked up saw one of my kids sitting on our deck reading and sunning. “Great! Weird, though,” fired off my thoughts. See she used to read quite a lot and I wish she would do so now. I was curious to know what had caught her eye, but not curious enough to race over and interrupt her.
A day or two later she was at it again, and to satisfy my lingering curiosity I tried see what she was reading. Problem was she held the cover wrapped back on itself. Finally, though her posture and her fingers were just so allowing me to see but one word. Just one word and my mind wiggled a little at it. Do you know what that word was? Sparks. “Hmmmm, Sparks? Could that be Nicholas Sparks? Man, it must be.”
Well, I read a lot and am sort of familiar with movies that come out. There was this Nicholas Sparks book made into a movie. Yeah, see that picture over there on your device? This book stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List for like a year straight. It is not to hard to put two and two together with the faces on that movie cover. So, that’s my “Sparks Perspective.” I had other mental baggage about this too as reasonably or not some people have called it “soft porn.” I’ve seen some ladies from church (unfortunately) snicker a bit about these things being “beach reading.”
What a mess. Daughter is reading. Daughter clearly old enough to understand the whole bit about sex and all. One night at dinner she even popped out with, “all married people do it!” Well, at least she had the married bit correct. Somehow my inklings about Sparks gravitated to unmarried bed action. Even if said action was married perhaps I was not keen on the 16 year old wandering through what another might write in a book.
As a parent I am not naive to the influences she faces, but seriously? On the deck, in the sun, reading away at a Sparks book? Not sure I was lovin’ that.
Let’s go a figuring out of things…
When I was her age in the 1986 or 1987 era I brought a Star Trek novel home from the library at Papillion La-Vista High School. I cannot remember the name of that paperback but weirdly enough I do know it had a purple cover. In short order Bam! I had a parent collision. Dad told me it was off limits; I could not read it; it had to go back to the library. See how that experience sort of stuck with me? Since then I have found novels to be enriching and work well for my mindset. Maybe not for my dad’s mindset, but that is another story.
Having that baggage I didn’t just want to squash my 16 year old saying something like, “Those books are bad; you can’t read it.” I went years not reading because of this and programming that it was ungodly, etc., etc. I have gotten past that baggage…sort of.
Many times what others say is just a bit off base be they parents or be the random impressions one has from the culture1.
So at the time in my life when my daughter brought this book home I was sanding down our kitchen cabinets. We had been remodeling the kitchen and were getting ready for the team from Aiken-Augusta Flooring to come by and install “Luxury Vinyl Tile” (LVT)2. The whole family was gone and I was at home between work related tasks.
I almost always have my smartphone reading a book to me while doing work like sanding cabinets, mowing, edging, whatever. That keeps me from “wasting my time while working on the house.” (uh-oh, more baggage). But I really do love learning about history and reading novels, so a decision happened itself in my mind: “I’m gonna read it and see what it is like.” It seems that so many people make grand statements about the badness of things while in reality have very little clue about it.
So I found that book she was reading. It was A Bend in the Road. Being a consumer of electronic books I headed off to Amazon.com and found that book. $7.99 later I was the proud owner of my very first Nicholas Sparks book! Who-hoo!
Fine until the book took a bend in the road
So the book started off just fine. On and on it went and continued to seem just fine. Then chapter 13 hit. Look at this set of words: moist tongues, shivers, kisses, intoxicating, fingertips, responding, mouth open. “Mmmm, yeah that’s how lovemaking works, but wouldn’t it be better if my daughter learned these things and more on her own with her husband rather than reading them into her understanding?”
Then chapter 14 added a few more events like fingers along spines and response and a few other things about the character of their lovemaking.
Ok, so now I’ve found out for myself
Well, that afternoon about 3:30 or 4 o’clock my discerning wife came home. She reads all the time, but generally not books. I cannot even imagine her reading Nicholas Sparks, but mainly because novels just aren’t something she is drawn too. Well, I showed her a few of these juicy little paragraphs (there are not so many, really). The bookmark was at the beginning of chapter 13, so she’s got the story going great, but no moist tongues, yet.
What should be done? “Star Trek” her reading of that book? Just let her go ahead and read the thing? We spoke of that whole range from the ban to waiting upon her own conscience. Maybe, after all, she might of her own accord decide to abandon it. My concern was that by the time her conscience fired off there would be new exposures 3. The half or three-quarters decision we came to was to urge her to skip chapter 13 and 14, but let her read on for the rest of the story (I was up to chapter 18 and it seemed like the shivers had shivered out).
Well, I went in to where my daughter was reclining with her iPod, and I plopped down on her sister’s bed across the room. Over rolled my teenage reader and I kicked off some idle chit chat. Eventually, I intertwined into the conversation some hints about the events in the book. Her face belied a bit of a laugh-happy-smile thing. In the middle of that expression she said, “Hold it…you said you’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks books.”
I told her I had started the night before on the same book she was reading and was in about 18 chapters. Trying to be circumspect in my dad/daughter discussion about body sparks I said there were a few things in that book that might not be so excellent to read about. I think I said something about it maybe being better to figure those things out later on (as in with a husband–I don’t know how in the world I put that stuff) than by reading the imaginings of another person in a book like this.
I did not really want to kick the book back to Goodwill (where she’d driven herself and decided it was going to be a great read). The conversation wandered around propriety and I cannot remember what else. As the bed descriptions really concluded after chapter 14 it seemed skipping those chapters might be in order. At this point I was throwing out some of this discussion to see where it would go.
As it puttered along she seemed ok to skip the chapters and after a bit I drifted out of the room happy that we’d probably come to a point where she could finish the book and maybe dodge the tingles. As I walked into the living room I figured that as it was really only a couple of paragraphs I could arrange for some redacted chapter 13s and 14s which is what I did. I gave these to her while she was painting or working on some essays for school. The whole book sat for a week or more and I wondered if maybe she had decided to abandon them.
Then one day I looked up and there she was on the deck. She was sunning again and some folded papers were up in front of her face. “Oh, okay, she is reading those chapters. Nice.”
Now what will she do?
I don’t know what she will do in the long run. She certainly still has the book and I did not do anything to remove the debatable sections from it. Maybe she will go and read them. Maybe she will not. At this point in her life we have taught her many things about propriety in relationships. Most of this has happened with her mom and with the church community. From our interaction we clearly can see that she understands the importance of living a godly life. Letting go is part of being a parent too. I think it is better to give guidance to a 16 year old in this situation rather than go rigid.
Many people will have their own opinions about this decision and many may be quite strong. Each family is different, but each person can learn what God wants them to do by routine Bible reading, praying, staying in community with Godly people. That is but part of the step though. Each person must go through their own “choose you this day whom you will serve” moments. I have had mine, even with this situation. My daughter will have and has had hers, even with this.
As the Apostle Paul says, “15b…if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to that what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:15b-16–NIV)