More Stuff I Learned From Dinah ~ Being a Student of Husbands & Sons and Getting Out of the Way

I grew up in a household where the mother was in charge. Generations of gritty, strong women pepper the history of my family tree.  My mom wasn’t the type of girl to rely on a man to take care of her. She took care of herself, and was appalled by women that did not. I suppose it was the time she spent learning early on that she was the only person who would not disappoint her, desert her, or break her heart. She was an on again, off again single mother…but even when she was married, she was in charge. She was a tiny, beautiful, 100 pound spitfire of determination, grit, and class. Even when she wore her denim bib overalls and flannel shirt covered in glue to the factory job where she made paint rollers, she had class and the kind of beauty that draws admiration. My first memory of wondering if I would be like her someday is when I was about 7 and she was maybe 25. We were swinging on the swings, and I stretched my legs as far as I could, trying to match her pace. Her thin legs were tan and smooth, and stretched gracefully out further than my little legs. I remember thinking that she was grown up and I wanted to be like her someday. Twenty-five…that seemed to be the perfect age. That was the age of grown up. And my mother was awesome. (More thoughts on that in a later, yet-to-be-written post!)

My own initiation into adulthood brought me to a one bedroom apartment, married to an eighteen year old senior in high school, and the mother of a little boy. I didn’t feel grown up or graceful, like my mother on the swing. In fact, I felt anxiety-ridden and unsure. I was never gritty, and my tendency toward softness, girliness, and the fact that I could never hide my tears when anything grazed the surface of my heart always bewildered my mother. The only real toughness I displayed growing up was the fact that I would kill a spider without blinking to protect my baby brother. I would probably do almost anything to protect my baby brother.

It occurs to me that I’m telling a prologue. Dinah would be so annoyed if she were here. This post really isn’t about my mother. Although, I think a little background helps sometimes. Hence the prologue. Oh great…now I’m explaining the prologue!

Dinah came into my life, early on, when I didn’t have a clue how to be a wife and mother to little boys. I was instantly and instinctively a mom, but the wife thing…and the understanding of the male gender thing…notsomuch. I wanted to be in charge, in control. I wanted to resort to what I knew of watching a wife and mother. You can only really count on yourself. (Men leave, men disappoint.) When Timothy was a baby, our roles seemed pretty natural…what with all the nurturing, nursing, and caregiving a mother is naturally created to do. But, as our oldest boy grew older, it was evident that I must decrease and it was time for the learning-to-be-a-man business that only a strong male role model, like say a father, can teach. I didn’t know how to begin to get out of the way.

It made Dinah, a strong woman in her own right, crazy to watch me stumble along, oblivious to the ways of a man. She would say that I didn’t like men…that I learned that from my mother. I’m not sure if she was right about that. I have always adored and admired men…but maybe I haven’t always respected them. She would ask me how I could know so little about men when I had all those brothers. How could that be?! I’m pretty sure she thought I was a fool. And, I was…at first. But, I learned to become a good student of God’s Word, a student who listened to the wise women of the church, and most of all a student of my husband and son. Dinah taught me about learning to understand my husband, use less words, and get out of the way. But, it was has proven to be a lifelong lesson.

It has been an ongoing battle for me to get out of the way. I would think my husband should parent this way, or it would be better if he had a heart to heart with our boys in the way I thought he should, using lots of words and feelings. I didn’t understand his strong, quiet ways. I wasn’t sure how a dad should fit into a family. I read scripture to our boys, fretted over them, and prayed and guarded them like a fiend. Sometimes to the point where they didn’t hear my words.

Dinah taught me that the goal of parenting a son was to give him a vision of being a man who would protect and provide for his family. A strong man of character and integrity, a godly, courageous man. It takes some grit to survive this world. For some silly reason, I thought it was up to me to give them that vision and grit. Girly, clueless me.

I spent years trying to get out of the way, trying to peel my grip off our oldest son, even as we buried three babies, and my instinct was to hold on tighter to the one that remained…the one that first made me a mother. Even though I’ve learned to let go in many ways, I find, I’m still learning…still holding on some.

Tim took them hunting…with guns and fishing…with hooks. I remember my anxiety and Dinah talking me through it, sternly. Tim and Timothy would sit in the woods for hours, barely speaking a word, in the cold, in the freezing rain and snow… waiting for the elusive deer. Hours of waiting…days…weeks. Then my tender-hearted boy shot his gun and killed a deer, providing meat for our family. I didn’t understand the point of it then. It didn’t seem like they were building anything substantial just sitting there. I would have thought you were crazy if you suggested that they were building a relationship of respect for one another and God’s creation. They were building character, patience, perseverance, courage, integrity, endurance, and the ultimate feeling of providing for a family. No…I had no idea that’s what was going on.

Yesterday, our 10-year-old, James went hunting for the first time and shot his first deer. I noticed the twinkle in his eye when he described his father’s Tiger Woods style fist pump when he shot the deer. A satisfied fist pump from dad is worth more than all the gold in the world. I get that, now. Before he left, I prayed through my what-ifs, and thought about Dinah telling me to be a student of  my husband and sons. I have been a student of them. And, I’ve learned to appreciate their ways, once unnoticed by my foolish eyes, even if it is still hard for this mama-heart to watch her boy walk out into the harsh world with a gun slung on his back. Like Mary, I put those thoughts away to ponder them in my heart…pat my boy on the back on the way out the door, saying simply “You can do it.” And, when he returns from the man-world I don’t understand, a bloodied deer proudly in tow, I will welcome him with pride. These days, I’ll even help them process the meat!

You see, all these years, while I struggled to figure out how to train these boys to be men, in the recesses of my mind still thinking it was up to me, my husband was quietly leading by example. And, his life has spoken louder than any of my striving. It seems that the quiet way Tim chose to do the hard things, to work hard to support our family, to have integrity and courage. The quiet way he taught them through experience and example to protect and provide…without many words at all…has inspired them more than any idea I’ve tried to plant in their hearts. You see, a man with strength and goodness in his heart can inspire a boy to want to do the hard things himself…to overcome the obstacles…to fight the good fight. Just the act of Tim sitting in church on Sunday morning and folding his hands in prayer and the act of getting up everyday to do a back-breaking job without a word of complaint, rushing to the baseball game in boots still covered in mud and concrete… speaks volumes to them about what a man does…what a man looks like. A son will strive to earn the respect of a father who may not even be the greatest example….but a son with a great father, the kind that lives a good, quiet life and honors the Lord…working hard for his family. Well, there is no limit to what is inspired in the heart of a son with a father like that.

Mothers have an important role in the lives of their sons, don’t get me wrong. They need our love and nurturing as keepers of the home. They need us to be their haven from the harsh world, a cheerleader that always believes in them, and a listening ear when they have a hankering every few months or so to share what’s on their minds. Even, every once in awhile, a gentle voice of wisdom (with very few, non-preachy words, of course.) And, most of all a prayer warrior…standing in the gap for them while they go out and fight the good fight. But, I am still in awe of the beauty of the way a dad can inspire a son to be a man, simply by living. Sometimes our part is to pray, and get out of the way.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?



  1. I often wonder if we are kindred spirits, Kelly. I think I am going to really struggle (and do some already) letting my husband lead my boys. Thank you SOOOO much for the reminder that strong women can get out of the way and stand strongly in the gap for our boys, while we let our husbands lead and teach them how to be men. Love you!

  2. Mary Koppenhofer says:

    Beautiful, Kelly!

  3. I don’t know who Dinah is Kelly, but he/she is very wise. What a wonderful post – I enjoyed it very much. It’s always amazing to me the dynamic between moms and dads and their children – each having a special place, and a definite role to fulfill. Great job!

    Blessings ~ Rhonda

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