Real Help for Real Living: I can’t tune a piano but I can tuna fish

by Rev. Tony Marciano

OK, I won’t quit my day job and go into standup comedy. But I do want to talk about tuning things. And for some of you, I’m going to date you.

I want to take you back to the 1970s, when cars had points and distributors and carburetors instead of things like electronic fuel injection. We still have one of those cars. Yes, it has points, a distributor and a carburetor.

My son borrowed the car but didn’t like the way it was running. He decided to fix it. When he gave the car back to me, it was running horribly. When you sat in the passenger compartment, it bounced up and down. I wondered whether the engine was shot. My other son and I decided we needed to tune it.

We re-gapped all the spark plugs. One of the spark plug wires was loose and I thought maybe that was the problem. We fixed the broken wire and made sure all the wires had a good connection. We removed the distributor cap and re-gapped and set the points. We checked the timing and found it to be off. We reset it to specifications. Soon it was running better, but you still “bounced in the seat” (bounced less, but you still bounced). In other words, it was still running rough.

There was only one thing left to adjust – the carburetor. I turned the air/fuel mixture screw and it began to settle down. With each turn of the screw, it began running better and better. When I was done, it ran as smooth as silk. You could put a full glass of water on the dashboard and it wouldn’t spill a drop.

A few weeks later, my son asked to borrow the car. When he returned it, he bragged that it was running so smooth. In fact, he said, he did such a good job tuning the car that when he started it he didn’t need to use the choke.

I was at a loss of what to say next. In my mind I thought, “What do you mean ‘you’ tuned it? You gave it back to me running horribly. I was the one who returned it back to perfection. I’m the one you need to be thanking!”

I may have thought that, but – other than this article – I will take those words to my grave (he doesn’t read my articles, so I’m safe). Instead, I was being confronted with the expression, “Would you rather be right than be happy?” If I wanted to be right, I would have confronted him with the truth of who really tuned the car (and it wasn’t him). Instead, I wanted to be happy. I also wanted a relationship with my son.

I never told him who tuned the car. The relationship with him was more important than being right.

There is a scripture verse that says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” The challenge of parenting is to separate “willful defiance” from “childish immaturity.” As a parent, it’s too easy to see the behavior and react to it without looking at your child’s motivation behind their behavior. Parenting will always have the tension of maintaining the relationship with our child while setting strong boundaries that every child longs for.

I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well, my friend.

The Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which provides a free, long-term Christian recovery program for men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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