A friend and I were wade fishing on the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas when a feeling of dread came over us. It was a fabulous spring day in the Ozarks. The sun was shining. The flowers and trees were in bloom. The birds were talking and the fish were biting. Then, while casting our lines as we stood knee-deep in the cool, clear water, we noticed something from the corners of our eyes—our boat was floating away from the bank!
We were in the middle of nowhere, literally miles from the nearest town, home, or campground. This was the remote bottom twenty-three miles that flows into the White River with no access. We had a problem without our boat. So, we threw down our rods and chased the boat—for the rest of the day. Instead of hauling in small mouth bass, we climbed steep banks, ran around trees, and jumped over rocks in pursuit of our ride back to civilization.
We had tied our boat to a tree stump, but the knot was weak and the rope eventually slipped loose. The current turned the boat into a floating version of Usain Bolt—always just a bit faster than its competition. Every time I rounded a corner, I saw the boat slip out of sight around the next bend in the river. Reconnecting with it became a long and arduous ordeal, and it cost us time, energy, and (we like to think) quite a few fish.
I’ve come to believe that it’s each parent’s calling to tie a knot between his or her heart and the heart of their children through every season of life. The prophet Malachi pictured a day when the Lord would “turn the heart of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6). But the currents in the river of life work against these “heart- knots,” and from time to time they can unravel. Parents can mistakenly think they only need to tie one really tight knot when their children are young and then sit back and hope it doesn’t unravel. People are human—we do stupid things. Relationships are difficult, even with those we love. Growth and change happen—think puberty, graduation, adulthood— and life is hard. Circumstances often are beyond our control. But the greater the integrity of the heart-knot, the less likely it will slip loose and allow the relationship to drift away. So, we should never pass on opportunities to invest in the integrity of the heart-knot with those we love.
When our son, Kile, entered high school, I decided to make an intentional, long-term investment into our heart-knot. Frankly, it’s something I regret not doing with more intent with our two older daughters, but I didn’t want to make the same mistake a third time around. So, in the fall of his sophomore year, Kile and I began going to a new bagel shop to discuss life over breakfast.
I’m not sure of the precise moment I decided to launch these discussions, but I can trace it back at least in part to a twentieth anniversary vacation with my wife in Italy. Karen and I were in Venice when we noticed a small, mom-and-pop leather shop during our daily walk through a neighborhood across the canal from our hotel. We stopped in each morning, browsed through the merchandise, and visited with the sociable young man who was taking over the family business. It only took a few days for him to seem like a lifelong friend. And on our last day in town, I made a purchase: three high-quality, leather-bound journals, one for each of our children.
Since Kile was about to begin high school, I decided I would fill his journal with fatherly advice and give it to him a few years later as a graduation present. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized there was an opportunity for something more—a chance for me to give Kile something I’d never gotten from my father. I would not just give him practical wisdom, but structured time together during a season of life we would never be able to relive.
The idea behind the journal morphed into the regular discussions between Kile and me at the bagel shop. We didn’t meet on a formal schedule but as our calendars allowed. I drove the agenda and the timing, ensuring that we met at least a couple of times each month and that the discussions had purpose. But we were light on structure and formalities. Sometimes we spent several weeks on the same deposit. Sometimes we covered it over one bagel. And sometimes we ditched the planned conversation in favor of some challenge or issue that had sprung up in his life or mine.
Spending time with Kile to discuss those deposits helped create integrity in our heart-knot because it provided a platform for building strength into our relationship—it allowed us to discuss important issues, for him to honor my role as his father, for me to respect his growth as a budding man, and for us to set the foundation for conversations we now have as adults.
Addressing the real-time opportunities was critical to the integrity of our heart-knot. I wanted Kile to know the relationship was far more important than my pre planned agenda. At the same time, it was important that we also cover some very specific topics. I wanted to make two types of deposits in his life—relational deposits and wisdom deposits—and, for me, both were highly personal and equally important.