Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

911 (x5)


Don’t blame my wife. She thought she could trust me.


She went on an out-of-town trip with her sister, leaving me in charge of our two boys and Kayla, her sister’s daughter.


It was a Saturday afternoon, an important time in my work week because, depending on my work load, I sometimes shut everything down and listen to A Prairie Home Companion, awaiting its highlight, The News from Lake Wobegon.


While enveloped in the show, my son Garrett, who was around 10 years old then, burst into my office to tell me that he and Kayla “called 991!” 


“Funny pal,” I said. “I’m listening to The News from Lake Wobegon. It’s almost over. Scoot.”


A few minutes later, he burst in again and said the same thing.


“Right pal. See you,” I said.


I joke around a lot with my kids. Like a lot of men, I tease the ones I love. So I thought Garrett was giving me what I’ve given him throughout the years: a tall tale.

But he really goofed this one up. “It’s 911--not 991” I said to myself. 


The News from Lake Wobegon ended, and like all good performances, left me wanting more. I left my office, noticed the front door was wide open and walked out it, wondering what was up.


On our patchy green and brown front lawn, under our enormous cedar tree, sat our other son, Elliot. He was about 12 then and for reasons I still don’t know, was crying.


“What’s up pal?” I asked. And then, out of the corner of my right eye, I saw something blue move in the bushes under our large tree.


“Sir, is everything okay!?” came a stern voice, a mixture of inquiry and command. It was a female police office, staring at me with her right hand over her loaded pistol.


I remained very, very still, which is my policy around someone with their hand on their pistol and who can probably shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 30 paces.


“Oh,” I said, stunned and still as a mime. “I think I know what this is about. Garrett! Come out here and talk to this officer!”  


Turns out Garrett and his older cousin called 911--five times then hung up! I’m pretty sure Kayla put him up to it. The joke was no longer a laughing matter. I can only imagine what that police officer thought, with a crying kid on the front yard and all, and how domestic violence is one of the most volatile calls an officer can receive.


She opened a can of Jesus on my little boy. She really gave it to him at first. And there was a part of me that wanted to run interference and lessen her blow. But going against the over-parenting trend today (especially in church) that’s creating a generation of spiritual veal, I let it ride. 


“This is good for him,” I told myself. “It’s hurting him, but it’s not harming him,” I reminded myself. “This is correction, not abuse.”


Garrett learned through the minister of pain about one of the many hard-edged realities of life, about the abrasive and sometimes emotionally bloody connection between cause and effect. That when you mess with a bull--sometimes you get the horn. That when you don’t have enough courage to say “No,” you often end of saying yes to the ill-guided plots and plans of others. That when you sow foolishness, you reap a mangled mess of painful emotions, embarrassment being just one. 


I have coached too many boys whose parents, mostly mothers, sheltered them from the necessary bumps and bruises of this R-Rated life. Following a wimpy caricature of Jesus found in too many sequestering sermons, such parents weren’t sheltering their children from abuse, which harms, but from the the very experiences they need to become men, which emasculates and which puts sand in their character, creating ballast through the storms of life.


Sometimes correction, even stern and indignant correction, is one of the greatest expressions of muscular love that our children can possess. It blesses. It gives our children the gift of objectivity, helping them see themselves as the world sees them, not as their adoring and often tunnel-visioned parents think they should be seen. It feels awful, even brutal at times, but it’s clarifying. Such is the path of sobriety that can help us get to the abundant life God has for us.


Garrett passed through a painful and hurtful portal that warm Saturday afternoon thanks to a woman veiled in blue and who played the role of a secular angel. She hit my boy with a bolt of invisible soul lightning, maturing him, disciplining him, helping him know that he can take a punch, stagger, and keep going, moving him closer to that hallowed state of being that is part-nature, part-manufactured through the tribulations of real life: Manhood. 


This post is part of the Rite of Passage Blog Tour. You can read more entries by other authors at Additionally, for more ideas on how to hold a ceremony for your son, check out Jim McBride’s new book, Rite of Passage: a Father’s Blessing, by Moody Publishers, on Amazon: