The season of dads and grads is upon us. It is a time when celebration and thoughts of warm summer nights are in the air. The spring air is activating our joy of transitioning seasons and the promise of what the future holds for graduating youth is challenging our inclination to resist change. For dads, having Father’s Day fall during this season is like having your birthday fall on Christmas. You’re excited, but everybody else is somewhat distracted by something else; in this case, the smell of barbeque.
The celebration of both Mother’s and Father’s Day seem appropriately timed around graduations given we watch the children we’ve raised experience one of the most significant milestones of their lives. For many of us, those children will go off to college, accomplish expected goals, graduate in four or more years, and go on to seek the passions of their lives.
For others, like myself, we’re one year in. College selected--check. Dropped them off-- check. Made the tuition payment--check. Visited a few times over the year-- check. Gotten through the bouts of homesickness--check. First year of finals--check. Found summer job--check. Going back for the second year--HOLD UP, WAIT A MINUTE.
Found their purpose--NOT CHECKED.
What happens when your expectation of a dream is deferred--when your child says, “I don’t think this is the path for me?" What happens when they’ve had the talk with you and you find out they’re just not that into your desired path for their life? It’s not beyond their ability; it’s just not what they want. For me, 18 years of life flashed before my eyes and I immediately began to search for all the things I’ve done wrong. For years, people have reminded her mother and me how great we were as parents. Surely, this must be a mistake. We rehearsed this! We did it at daycare graduation, then kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, and then at high school. We have the pictures to prove it. Yet, here we are.
Now the story I’ve been waiting to tell about all the things I expected my daughter to do after college graduation has to change. I have to live in the reality of her own goals and expectations based on how she sees the world and her place in it.
During a conversation with my brother-in-law, as his 3-year-old son was challenging his patience, I said to him, “Don’t raise them to be intelligent, but then expect them to be ignorant for the sake of your own ego.” I think I was speaking to myself.
Here are the three things I am learning from my 19-year-old daughter that were reinforced by my 3-year-old nephew.
- As a parent, you are the scaffolding of your child’s life. You are a temporary structure of support for the development of the beauty and character within your child that the world will come to see.
- No one, not even your child, should ever disappoint you for not being what you want him or her to be. None of us is perfect, but we are perfectly made. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the path of our lives were built following our own dreams.
- There is a point in time when being a parent is less about guiding and more about encouraging. Trust the structure you’ve built to stand on its own two feet with an understanding that the scaffolding is always available if and when it is needed for support again.
It is that simple. If the previous 700 words were too much for you, here are six that will help. Trust the Process and Happy Father’s Day!
Kenneth Braswell, Executive Director, Fathers Incorporated and Director, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse