“You are my son. You will never be cool. Deal with it.”
I said these words to my son when he was 9 years old. He was showing me the new school clothes he had just bought with his mom. Included in the new wardrobe was a pair of extremely baggy jeans, the kind intended to be worn well below the waistline. His mother had told him she did not think they were appropriate and would likely be rejected in the court of dad but he was determined to make an appeal to the judge. The pants were “cool” and he wanted them. Unfortunately for the future lawyer, in the court of dad any objection based on coolness was always overruled.
He was disappointed and not too happy about my verdict. What was the harm in wearing baggy pants? I explained to him that like it or not people judge other people based on appearance, that what we wear sends a message about us. Being cool was not important, but being godly and excellent was. While there may not be any harm in wearing edgy clothes, there is a higher objective.
I also considered a secondary long term goal in rendering my decision. The desire to be accepted, to fit it and be loved, is incredibly powerful and often increases over time. I knew that if I was going to raise a child who was driven by values that I would need to encourage values-driven thought at an early age. One of the most important values is that right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, are not determined by culture but by God. Following God inevitably leads to conflict with the culture. I could not expect him to stand up for his values in the future if I did not train him to do so in the present. Standing against the crowd is almost never cool or popular.
This is a crucial matter for people of faith. Christian beliefs are often at odds with the values of the society in which we live. Simply stating one's beliefs can lead to significant cultural backlash, to accusations of bigotry and hate. People who have not been taught from a young age how to stand up for and defend their faith, people who do not value faith over cultural acceptance, are unlikely to be able withstand the pressure. They may cave.
A few months ago my son interviewed for a position with an attorney’s office in Southern California. During the interview he was asked about his upbringing and values. He told them that as a child his father taught him to do the right thing no matter what. He told them that he learned that doing right was more important than being popular or cool. He shared what he had been told as a little boy, that he was my son and therefore would never be “cool”. The interviewers laughed at the story but were also impressed. They realized that before them was a young man of character.
My son learned the lesson. He also got the job.