A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


There are times when it’s really hard to be Elizabeth’s dad.

I mean, look at her.  She’s adorable.  She’s talented.  She’s a great student.  She has a fun, bubbly personality.  She never gets into any trouble more heinous than not making her bed or being a little unkind to her brother.  And when there is work to be done, she’s the first – and usually the only – one to offer to help, or to do it herself.

See what I mean?  Hard!

Especially when the time comes to make a parental decision that you know is going to disappoint her.  How do you say “no” to such a girl when you know how much she deserves to hear “yes”?

With Amy and Joe, our first two children, saying “no” was never all that difficult.  Getting them to understand what “no” meant was the hard part.  Our third child, Andrea, was a lot like Elizabeth as a teenager.  But as an adult she’s so busy she’s never around long enough for us to say “no” – not that it would matter if we did.  And while Jon is two years younger than Elizabeth, he’s . . . well, you know . . . male.  So “no” comes pretty naturally for him.

But Elizabeth, for one reason or another, is the model 14-year-old.  So when she wanted to participate in Something Very Important, our natural inclination was to do everything we could to make it happen for her.  After all, she deserved it.  So Anita and I worked on it for a couple of weeks.  We looked at it from every angle.  We talked about it late into the night.  We prayed about it – hard.  But in the end it became clear that it just wasn’t going to work out, no matter how much Elizabeth deserved it.

Life can be that way, you know?  The hardest working team doesn’t always win the game.  The most qualified applicant doesn’t always get the job.  Sometimes nice guys finish last, virtue isn’t rewarded, cheaters prosper and the worm beats the heck out of the early bird.  Life isn’t fair, no matter how hard we try to legislate, litigate and negotiate otherwise.  Unfairness happens.  We can’t control that.  The only thing we can control is how we will respond to unfairness when it happens, as it inevitably will.

For Anita and I, that meant putting off telling Elizabeth “no” for as long as we could.  Neither one of us wanted to face it.  But finally last night we sat with her and tried to explain why Something Very Important wasn’t going to happen.  She cried.  I couldn’t blame her.  I cried too.  But she didn’t complain.  She didn’t whine.  She didn’t wail about how unfair it was.  She didn’t even remind us that she deserved better, even though we all knew perfectly well that she did.

“I know you guys tried,” she said through her tears.  “That’s all I can ask.”

Later that night, long after she had gone to sleep, I snuck into Elizabeth’s room to kiss her forehead and stroke her hair and whisper one more time how sorry I was that things didn’t work out.  I could see that her eyes were puffy from all the crying.  They were still a little red this morning when she came downstairs for breakfast.  But there were no more tears.  Instead, her face was dominated by her characteristic happy smile.  She didn’t say a word about her disappointment.  All she could talk about was how excited she was for the activities and opportunities of the new day.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to deal with a kid like that?

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--- © Joseph Walker 


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through