My youngest child will graduate from college in December.
My youngest child, who by definition is no longer a child.
She is taking her certification exams today and tomorrow to teach in South Carolina, her home state.
My oldest child, my namesake, is a mother of three. She sings. She dances. She acts. She throws Frozen-themed birthday parties like nobody’s business.
My middle child lives in Denver. She is passionate about all the right things. She is tender hearted, but she has learned to be bolder and stronger and to make her opinions known at both the local coffee shop and the Colorado ballot box.
At times like these, at times of great achievement and wonderful milestones, I am transiently consumed with anxiety about whether or not I have been a good parent. Have I been a good example for my children? Have I just talked the talk or have I walked the walk?
When your children are very young, they look up to you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You’re taller, stronger, smarter, and certainly more emotionally stable. They carry this grand delusion forward for years, and you bask in the parental warmth and glow of knowing that you need never lose a chess game or foot race or impromptu swim meet. They know they can’t beat you, you know they can’t beat you, so you let them beat you. Sometimes.
As time goes on, they begin to discover that your loafers are dusted with clay. Your arguments have holes in them. Your faith is not as rock solid as you once told them it was. Santa becomes real to them in that he is not.
They grow, and isn’t that what we dream about and pray for? They grow tall and strong and witty and funny and emotional and beautiful and intelligent and creative and passionate.
They become, at the same exact moment it seems, us and not us in the twinkling of an eye.
Do they see my struggle? Do they feel my ambivalence? Do they sense my intellectual gamesmanship with myself? Oh, I can try to keep these things, these changes of my own, to myself, but I know better. Just as our children may have thought we had eyes in the back of our head, they have always had tiny invisible emotional divining rods coming straight out of their smooth, wrinkle-free foreheads. With ancillary bullshit detectors hanging like earrings off their ears.
We parents have never seen them, but we know they are there.
Have I been a perfect example for my children? Heavens, I gave up on that decades ago. Have I been a good example of a work in progress? I hope so.
I have wrestled , am still wrestling, with the meaning of it all, globally. My values have not changed greatly in my fifty seven years, but my adherence to them has been tenuous at times. Faith has been the most powerful force driving me rapturously from within, and other times has been the most oppressive fetter binding me tightly with indecision and fear.
My internal world has not always mirrored my external world. Some of you know this intimately. Others have never had a clue.
So, have I been a good example for my children? Only they can answer that.
The quest goes on, though. I have three grandchildren and hope to one day have more. I want to be a good man to these precious little folk who light up and call me Papa whenever I come through the front door to visit.
I am not a perfect man and know that I never will be.
Life is not a stenciled, cut and pasted, color matched exercise.
It’s messy, it’s sometimes painful, and it’s always full of surprises.
The best example I can hope to provide, I think, is to more clearly show others how I move through the morass. How I try to make sense of it all, while making the world a little better than it was before I got here.
My children are healthy, happy, productive women who are already making their marks on the world and the next generation. They are moving away, and yet they will always be with me, and I with them.
Isn’t that what being a successful parent is all about?