“Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.”

That’s what Donovan sang way back in 1965. Sure—on the surface, it’s a sweet ode to his true love. But let’s be honest. He might as well have been singing about being a parent.

I know I’ve felt that way about my own kids. I want to guide them as they move through every new phase of life. Deep down, I really want to understand them. But if I ever think I’m getting this dad thing right, it just as quickly slips through my grasp.

Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

I’m not sure what I expected it to be like—getting to know my kids. I guess I figured that on some level, they would be miniature versions of me. I didn’t really think about the fact that they would be always changing . . . always growing . . . always becoming.

In hindsight, I think I underestimated God. I don’t think I fully appreciated the depth of His creativity. But I do now. I see it every day in my two girls—in their unfolding identity, and in all their beautiful complexity. Parenting them is constantly surprising. Sometimes it’s baffling. But it’s certainly never boring.

I guess I should have seen it coming. I’m not the same person now that I was when I was 8, or 12, or even 25. I have a back story of my own. And I’ve also seen first-hand what the support of loved ones can do along the way. I’ve seen how others can draw out the best parts of us, while also lifting us up when we fall.

I can look back now and see how God hard-wired me for certain things—some of which I’m still discovering to this day.

For example, I’ve always loved music. Some of that was just IN me . . . but it took supportive adults to help it grow. I remember my piano teacher, and the sacrifices my parents made so I could take lessons with her. I remember my high school band teacher, too. He opened my eyes to the world of jazz . . . but he also showed me how music could help you express things you couldn’t say any other way. And, of course, I remember the exhilaration and untamed freedom I felt when I first fired up an electric guitar with my friends.

When I take stock of my life from a wider view, I can see a pattern that I think is significant. My parents and teachers did it right. They identified the things in me that made me come alive.

You see, I’ve spent a lot of time doing things that didn’t necessarily bring me joy . . . or maybe stretched me in unhealthy ways. Some of that is part of the unpredictability of life, and the ebb and flow of different seasons. But as a dad, I want to do what all those supportive people did in my foundational years. I want to identify the things in my kids that they might not even see in themselves. I want to help them discover those things and then learn how to use them in constructive ways.

What I really want to know is . . . what makes my kids come alive?

What are those unique traits that God hard-wired in my girls? How can I encourage each of them to embrace the way they were made? And who are some other people who can come alongside them and encourage them—maybe even in a way that I can’t?

My kids were made in the image of God, just like me. Trying to understand them can sometimes seem like a moving target. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying. After all, that might one of my most favorite things about being a parent: anticipating the thousands of tomorrows we’ll have together . . . as we get to know each other all over again.