Empty Nest II
Bill Long 8/20/05
A Dragon Lives Forever...
The first feeling that came over me as I was sorting through remnants of the kids' lives in their bedrooms was one of pride. Indeed, they had both acquitted themselves very well in school, with friends, and they are both making small but significant strides in finding their way in the world. I felt that my ex and I had done a good job with them and had now largely discharged our trustee responsibility with them as we give them over to the world. [I also know that this is a mere dream].
I saw the little traces of their lives left behind as shards or memories of things that mean nothing to anyone else but everything to me. In a sense they are sculpted offscourings, the portions of the marble shaved off and laid aside as the beautiful bust emerges from the marble. The shavings have no intrinsic value in themselves, but they bear witness to the work of the shaper and the resultant beauty of the product. But then, as I looked further at their rooms, another, and sadder, thought came over me.
Memory as Loss
First, the thoughts of my son. All over his closet and his room, in baskets small and large, are balls. Miniature footballs, soccer balls, basketballs. There was a regulation-size basketball and hardball, still tucked securely in a mitt he used one year when he played little league baseball. I thought I had also bought him an 8-lb shot when he was in 7th grade, in case he wanted to go in that direction, but I couldn't find it. These were all traces of dreams I had for him. Almost every dad wants his son to grow up to be proficient athletically, and I was no exception. I spent hundreds of hours going to his practices and games, rooting him on, shooting around with him, playing catch. When he gave up basketball after 9th grade, having done very well for seven years, I supported him but felt, in a way that eluded words, that a dream had died (It was, I have decided, more my dream than his that died, but that didn't stanch the pain at the time).
But the collection of balls symbolized something else to me. I had bought them for my son so that we could always be tossing a ball to each other. I wanted to teach the dual lessons of the importance of vigilance as well as physical coordination. But the balls lying there in the baskets reminded me of how little I felt I truly had taught my son. A father knows so many things that his son does not. Even if the father is a word expert, however, many of those things are never really effectively communicated. Lacks in my own life become gaping lacks in his; my own fears become magnified in his own life; my valiant attempts to protect him from some of life's asperities may make him peculiarly unable to face things that were actually easy for me. I began to wonder if I had sent him into the world overly vulnerable not simply to crushing adversity but also to the little slings and arrows that will come his way. I felt it was too late to do anything about most things, and so I feared for him, and prayed for him, in a silent moment.
Thoughts About A Daughter
Though my daughter really hasn't spent more than a few nights here since 2002, she has used my house as her free storage facility while trying out her wings in NYC. Her "college" things are in the basement; the remants of her "high-school" things are in her bedroom upstairs. One of the objects I encountered as I went through my daughter's bedroom closet was a small heart-shaped locket. It reminded me not only of her incomparable sweetness and optimism, but also the way that I didn't fully cultivate and respond to that sweetness during her years under my "trusteeship." Ever since she was a small girl, my daughter was not only a person who did exceptionally well in school but was always a person who believed deeply in people and the value of friendship. I think she believes that, apart from love of family, friendship is quite simply the most important thing in life.
I delighted to see how she took to Kansas (at age 8) with unfeigned delight, and she considered that she was a most blessed person for being able to incorporate into her life a whole new group of people. On one occasion, when she was about 10 or 11, she said to me with utter seriousness, "Dad, don't you think we should be grateful to God for bringing us here to Kansas? I just can't imagine living my life without all these wonderful people I have discovered here." That was not the sentiment on my mind at the time, though I have since decided that Sydney was exactly right. It is the people whom life brings your way that we will all have the chance either to cherish or reject. Sydney taught me the power of cherishing.
But as I stood in her room this morning, I felt that I had only imperfectly cherished not simply the little aspects of my world but my daughter, too. I don't think I as heartily embraced her as she embraced me and the world. Possibly my own unspoken fears again arose here, fears of not knowing how to express love well, of the way that achievement and love, or "works and grace" relate to each other, of how I could love when I often felt like my world was either collapsing or threatened.
The past cannot be recalled nor the future haled into court. Escaped words and missed opportunities must remain what they were. Later interpretations can give a different "take" or "spin" on things, but I always will have mingled senses of pride and sadness at my kids' growing up. I was a very good parent, and not so good a parent; a careful trustee, but an often ill-informed and insensitive trustee.
Perhaps the most reassuring realization is that kids are pretty flexible and resilient. They will take what they want, reject other things, and utterly be my kids until their last breath. But they are largely on their own now. I will say "I love you" again to them, but most of the work has been done. So, in closing, I would just like to say one really important thing to my son. "Will, as I was cleaning today I finally found that sock that had been missing for four months..."
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long