Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

The Mystery of Parental Love

This morning my son dropped me off at the station to catch a train to the airport. He is home for two weeks, having spent his first year on a YWAM base in Australia. “Love you, Nate.” “Love you, dad.” There’s no better send off. 

Such moments are a reminder that there’s something special about parental love. It’s different than all of the other loves. You do extraordinary, even uncalled-for, things out of such affection. I’m now on a plane to Grand Rapids, denying myself the fruit and cheese platter because I am too cheap to spend the 6.50. But I will spend over a thousand dollars, as I did two days earlier, to help Nate upgrade his computer—and do it without hesitation. Mindless love is the only explanation.

As David Brooks puts it in his newest book, The Second Mountain, once your child is born, “you’ve been seized by commitment, the strength of which you couldn’t even have imagined beforehand.” I am hopelessly devoted to my kids, even though they have occasionally pushed me to my limits. There have been times I have both screamed at God and pleaded with God. I have wondered if the hospital mixed up the wrong children after delivery. But in the end, parenting is a journey framed by a covenant to be there for those God gives you. And give thanks for the fact his will could not have been more perfect. I would not trade it for anything. 

Brooks quotes from Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand: “A man who would say, ‘I love you now, but how long it will last I cannot tell,’ does not truly love; he does not even suspect the very nature of love.” Had I left Nate this morning with the words, “I love you today,” it would have meant nothing. There’s an eternality to true love. You never ask yourself if your child is worthy of the time and cost such a love commitment demands (well, okay, maybe “almost” never). 

God made parental love so profoundly deep because it will get so intensely tested. As I have sometimes mentioned, my son processes the world differently than I do. There are commonalities for sure. We both love God. And we date, but would never marry the Chargers. We are also dissimilar. Nate is black and white; I can see shades of gray. I am a morning person; Nate is night. Nate is a gamer; I have no time for games. I can remember some things; Nate can remember almost everything. I can read people better than Nate, but Nate out reads me when it comes to other things. I get pumped; Nate gets somewhat interested. I can get restless; Nate seems always relaxed. I take the fast lane; Nate takes the slow. I can talk about my feelings, but Nate is not so comfortable going below the surface. I am thinking about the next goal; Nate seems more interested in the next opportunity to stop at Coffee Rush. Nate is quirky—can sometimes seem a bit off to those who assume they are on. And yes, I am a bit idiosyncratic as well. 

You have probably guessed that Nate is someone with Asperger’s. What this means and where it fits on the autistic scale has always been a mystery to me. I have yet to meet an expert. Aspies have incredible brains that process the world differently, and this has its challenges. It is what makes Nate unique—as well as extraordinary. I’m still learning about parental love. Still learning on the job. Still learning deep commitment, which as Brooks puts it, is the stuff that builds our character. Had I chosen to not be a father—and not had a wife who brought me to certain realities—a part of me would never have taken shape. A dimension of love would not have surfaced. Without Nate—and my beautiful Kate—there would be a certain thinness to my soul.


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