Our Story Begins:
Building on the Foundation
I look at the photo in the above caption and it should make me nostalgic.
It is, after all, one of the most atypical parenting photos that speaks brilliantly of what being a parent is really, truly about. You’ve all been there, I know it. A crisp, fall day at the pumpkin patch. “Let’s take a picture” comes out of nowhere, the kids want treats or caramel apples or whatever . . . and when you say no you get that face. The picture is perfect because every parent knows the battle you ultimately win. It says: “you’re being grumpy, a giant pain, throwing a tantrum and yet . . . I love you anyway.”
I could write an entire column here about that alone.
Tons of “clickable” social media and blog posts go there, too. The desire to look back at your old self and think about what you’d tell your younger parenting self is really easy to think about. I absolutely could do it, too, it would be easy.
The biggest shifts in my parenting style, though, didn’t come from maturity. Those changes came when my wife, the mother of all four of my children, died unexpectedly in 2011. That is the parent I’d go back to and have the conversation addressing what’s about to happen.
I get it . . . three years . . . it’s just not that much time in the grand scheme of things. Look at it from the perspective of being thrust into the unknown dark wilderness without matches or a flashlight, though, and it becomes quite clear. I certainly had friends, and more importantly, family who stood beneath me – even if I didn’t know they were there – ready to catch me if I fell. If you’d spoken with me then and there, though, I’d have told you I was wholly unprepared for what was coming.
I would have the conversation with that parent. The one three years ago who told his wife, as she lay dying, “I can’t do this without you.”
Yes, Dave, you can. You’re certainly going to screw up: you’ll think your children are slowly dealing with the grief and moving forward but they won’t be. They’ll all be in different places, that’s how grief works. One size doesn’t fit all. You’ll think your oldest daughter will be okay with your going on a date with a woman. Yes, by the way, you will reach a place where you crave the company of a woman again. The reality is your daughter won’t be ready and she’s acting more mature and stable than she is. She’ll keep going on a career path her mother insisted she walk, even though you know full well she hates the road she’s treading. Keep on her.
One of your greatest moments will involve that picture up there and it will be just over three years before you experience it. The tiny girl up there will have listened to your lesson: this is your only life. Live it. Make educated decisions, but make your own mistakes, adventures and choices. Doing something for your Mom isn’t necessarily honoring her…living a full life is. She’ll post that very photo on her social media page and say “to the man who taught me I can do anything if I just work hard and believe in myself.”
From Father’s day on I’ll look at that photo differently. I’ve never been so glad of that fact.
What about you? Do you think about what you would do? What you should have done? Do you get success stories from your kids?