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Give them Love AND Justice?!
Earl Burns

When I was a kid, the biggest perk to living in a new middle-lower class neighborhood was the fact that it was developed smack dab in the middle of hilly Tennessee farmland with nothing around us really but woods to explore, rusty barbed-wire fences to cross, and old barns to get in to trouble in!

Most of us can remember at least one time in particular where we got in trouble for doing something we shouldn’t have been doing (I won’t be sharing all of mine). For some reason, I seem to remember a lot of those, but one particular memory seems to stick out…

Our neighbor across the street had a 1962 Chevy Pickup that had no doubt been rescued from some friend’s front yard (with cinder blocks in place of rubber tires if you catch my drift). Every Saturday our neighbor would get up at the crack of dawn to work on that truck. I remember several times the engine catching on fire in the process! Aside from replacing the cinder blocks with real Goodyear white-walls, the one thing he did seem to get right was the paint job. That truck was his pride and joy!

One Saturday afternoon (age 10), while testing the strength of a used bow I bought from a friend, I decided it would be great to see how deep I could get the returning arrow to sink into the dirt after shooting it straight up. Having a brother who was a great spotter helped with my intentions of having a perfect trajectory, but (as we all miss details from time to time), I did NOT account for wind-sheer! For the few seconds of flight while we stood in our back yard, I actually thought this was going to be the perfect shot until a loud THUD came from across the street. The thud was a result of a solid steel arrow-head piercing the nice shiny hood of that black ’62 Chevy!

My dad was NOT happy, but not quite as unhappy as the neighbor seemed! After running from my neighbor’s house to avoid apparent bodily injury, I was soon confronted by my Dad. I knew I was in trouble! As much as I hated having to tell my dad about something I did that was wrong, the part I always looked forward to was getting it over with. My dad told me I would have to go apologize (and retrieve the arrow still lodged in the hood) and then offer to pay for the repairs.

What I remember most is turning around to face my house after apologizing to my neighbor and seeing the curtain in our picture window jump back into place from where my Dad had been peeking to check on me. When I got home, he hugged me and then explained to me, as he always did, how important it was to take responsibility for the things we do that are wrong and then to do what we can to make them right. I will never forget that lesson, partly because of the content, but mostly because of the consistency with which he taught me… and still does to this day! What drove that point home is that I saw him do the same thing when he was faced with difficult scenarios and was called to account for his own mistakes and shortcomings.

We all, at our deepest core, know that making choices that are unwise in nature require some sort of justice. For example; a company charges us for something they did not do, we expect to get a credit on the invoice and if it happens consistently, we may even resort to reported them to the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau. We do the same thing with our children.

Now that I am a father, and have been for over 10 years now, I have learned how important it is to teach my son to take responsibility for his actions when he does something wrong by not only using my words, but also my actions. Tacked onto this concept however is the importance of combining that discipline with LOVE! I have to work at this DAILY and fail regularly!!

We, as humans, seem to have this innate ability to default to one extreme or the other. We are either ALL JUSTICE, or ALL LOVE. It is difficult for us, in our finite minds, to comprehend the importance of being BOTH. Without love, justice becomes nothing more than punishment without rehabilitation, and the negative behavior will continue. Without justice, love is cheapened and becomes a response that is interpreted by the child as “I guess they don’t really care” – and so the behavior continues without any change.

The best way for us to instill a solid, life-changing motivation in the hearts of our children is to help them understand the need for justice, while proclaiming to them that we love them. This balance must be maintained and does not, unfortunately, exist without regular repair and enforcement.

The BIGGEST hurdle for parents that I mentor today is their struggle, or unwillingness, to grasp the importance of helping their children to recognize the JUSTICE required as a result of unwise choices, while proclaiming their unchanged LOVE for their child. Too often, as parents, we stop after discussing the consequences! Consequences are unavoidable and natural and do not always have to be explained, but unconditional LOVE is something that is rare to stumble on these days… and you can’t take that chance with your kids! TELL THEM THAT YOU LOVE THEM AND THAT YOUR LOVE FOR THEM WILL NEVER GO AWAY – despite unwise choices.

It may not be an arrow accidentally shot into the hood of your neighbor’s favorite past-time, but either way, your kids should know that you disagree with a particular behavior and why, and then, in the same breath, they should be told that your LOVE for them will never change as a result of negative behavior! How would you be different today if you had experienced this in your childhood?

This Father’s Day weekend share with us an example of how your father, or you as a father, have demonstrated justice with love. Happy Father’s Day Dads!!!

Earl Burns has over 20 years of mentoring experience to teens and individuals and oversees our programs that cater specifically to the male partners and parents of Hope Clinic’s clients. He started as a volunteer at Hope Clinic and now also leads the prevention program as well as manages relationships with our other Agency partners. You can email Earl at: eburns@hopeclinicforwomen.org