A Fabricated Identity – Mission Impossible

The news this last week was filled with stories that exemplify the worst of the “modern identity” unchecked. Dozens of parents paid to help their undeserving kids get into prestigious universities. This appears to be the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

By “modern identity” I mean that a person has fabricated their identity from within…from their inner desires. This person then says, “I’ve decided who I am going to be and what I stand for. And I now assert myself on my family, community, church or school. I insist that you accommodate me, and change to accept me.” This person becomes their own validation. In the case of what is in the news, the parents are asserting that their children are qualified to be in elite colleges, even though they clearly were not.

This perspective is built on a foundation of sand, because their belief says, “I am the center of the universe where everything and everyone else revolves around me.” This is totally me-centered, and is devoid of the importance of relationships. I understand this, because twenty years ago, I was this person.

A theme that is woven throughout Tender Lions is imago dei. This short Latin phrase means made in the image of God. Imago dei is the opposite of the modern identity. This concept is vital in helping your son develop a healthy sense of self. While thoroughly covering a topic like developing a healthy identity is more than can be accomplished in one blog, raising a boy is too important to be left to chance. As we’ve witnessed in the media this week, these parents made intentional attempts to fabricate identities for their children and themselves. And it doesn’t work.

Imago dei informs me that each person is gifted, unique, and rational. All people possess intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties. Purchasing your child’s way into college is a flagrant and bankrupt way to assist your child to develop a healthy identity. Whether or not the truth ever came out, this scenario has no happy ending.

You’ve heard of a “lose-lose” situation. Well this is a “lose-lose-lose-lose” situation. The parent (1), the child (2) and the colleges (3) all lose, along with the man (4) whose greed and illegal behavior orchestrated the entire scam. While the legal ramifications for the parents and colleges affected are serious, to be certain, I can’t help but think about the crushing embarrassment and long-term implications for their children. Those who willfully participated in this scam exemplify the modern identity unchecked.

Much of our culture has shifted to a paradigm whereby they’re attempting to invent their own identity. And now those parents (in the news) have to face their children, friends, and the larger community. In addition, if the kids were never good test takers or received high grades, they intrinsically know that they couldn’t get into those colleges. Suspicion is a destroyer of trust. These kids will suffer the embarrassment, shame and banishment from the college community…and it’s the parent’s fault.

As a dad, I want my son to have an identity that is based on a higher perspective. “Traditional identity” is one that seeks the highest good. It’s not “inside-out”, but “outside-in.” We don’t act like Luke in Star Wars to “look deep within”. We look outside to God, moral truth, allegiance to our country or other virtuous places. It’s vital that I attempt to align my beliefs and actions to the finest sources I can find. This behavior may well include sacrifice of self to serve the greater good.

My father served honorably in WWII, and he hated war. As the son of German immigrants and as a Christian man, going to war against his homeland went against his core values and beliefs. And he went…an important sacrifice for the greater good. Outside-In. Traditional Identity.

By living life according to a traditional identity, fulfillment often comes from the honor your community bestows on you for your service and maybe even sacrifice, and the self-respect of knowing that you’ve aligned your being and doing with the highest values of those groups in our culture that hold us together like glue.

As a dad, you have to be intentional about what you say and how you live. If not, you and your son will just be carried along by popular culture, like swimming in a strong tide. I want to be certain that my son doesn’t look to the size of his social media following, the labels on his clothes or whether or not he gets into the right college to determine his value.

I want him to know that he’s unique, respected, and loved…because he’s mine, and because he’s imago dei. And his performance (good or bad) in school, sports or at work can never alter that. I want my son to know that all people have unique gifts, skills, and potential power for good, and that regardless of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, marital status, sexual identity, or physical attributes are to be treated with a reverent sense of dignity and respect.

You have been gifted with qualities that manifest themselves in ways that allow you to love, care, create, reflect, protect loved ones and fight for important causes. This is what it means to be a tender lion.

16th century theologian Martin Luther wrote, “While the Law says ‘do this’ and it is never done, grace says ‘believe in this’, and everything is already done.” God declared in the earliest days of recorded human history that creation is “good”, and that man is “very good.” You don’t have to fabricate your identity. You’ve already been given a “very good” one. Imago Dei!

This is an edited excerpt from Tender Lions – Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son.

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