by Jess Stryker
When my son Nathan was about 8 years old he received some money from his great-grandmother. He wanted to buy
something right away, so we went to a nearby supermarket. Out in front of the market were a couple of young girls
with a box full of kittens. Nathan looked at the kittens and announced that what he would like was a kitten (we
didn't have a pet at that time). I was a bit hesitant, as my wife, Julie, was not along on the trip, and I wasn't
sure how she would react if we suddenly came home with a new cat! I had a brief conversation with Nathan about
the responsibilities of pet ownership, and he agreed that he would feed, clean, and otherwise care for his new
pet. So we went into the store and he spent his gift money on some cat litter and kitten food. When we came out
of the store, the girls were busily chasing one of the kittens which had climbed out of the box and was scurrying
off across the parking lot! We thought this was a good sign, and so we took home the small black and white escapee.
Nathan named her "Frisky" because she was so active. When we got home Julie was a bit surprised, but
who could resist that cute little bundle of fur?
Frisky quickly became Nathan's constant companion. He called her his "daughter" and carried her with him through the house. Feeding her taught him responsibility. When he forgot, he saw that she suffered and that hurt him inside. He learned compassion. When he had to clean her litter box he learned that sometimes unpleasant jobs are a necessary sacrifice made to obtain something we want. He learned perseverance. When he was too rough with her she bit him and scratched him. He learned to be gentle and respect the feelings of others. When he went to bed she curled up next to him on her own pillow and purred him a lullaby. He learned unconditional love.
Being a little boy's cat is not easy, as little boys can be rough. Frisky put up with a lot, and periodically left a few tooth marks on Nathan to remind him to be gentle! When Nathan left home for college, Frisky stayed with us and entered into a well-deserved "retirement". When he came home to visit he would always go to find Frisky right after greeting us. As Frisky got older, she slept more and more, but she would always perk up and wander out to the living room to greet Nathan when she heard his voice in the house. It's now several years since Nathan left home, he has married, and he and his wife Lisa are expecting their own child soon. Yesterday Frisky died after a long illness. We all feel like there is a hole in our lives. Nathan came over with his wife last night. We sat around and talked a little about Frisky, then we joined hands and thanked the Lord for the blessings she had brought to our lives.
As parents we struggle to know how to raise up our children. Sometimes God gives us help in ways we don't see at the time. As I reflect back on the impact this small little cat had on my son, I see God's hand working in my life and my son's. This little cat taught my son so many things that I couldn't. I am grateful to God for bringing her into our lives. If you are a parent, look for those little gifts God gives you to help you in your job of "training a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6). Don't expect that a pet will be a miracle cure for all that is wrong. Nathan may have been officially in charge of Frisky's care, but in reality, Julie provided most of it. But in hindsight, I can see that for us, the things Nathan learned from owning a cat far outweighed any inconvenience. While a pet might not be the right choice for every child, I would encourage you to consider this tool that God has provided for us.
Nathan & Frisky, 1987, 2001
Johanna Grace Stryker was born March 13, 2002.
Nathan & Johanna, 2002