Friday, February 13, 2015

It is time for The Talk

Another milestone is about to be reached so I steel myself for it by hiding behind a computer keyboard. That gets boring, so I move to the other side, in front of the keyboard and start typing. I find it easier to unload myself to the vast emptiness that is the internet than to try to maintain the attention span of a child who was raised by "2 Second Frenzy." So here is the talk (and since the Bard said it better than I could, I'll rely on him to help out).

My elder has a friend in town. A friend I knew about before today and whose picture I have seen. This is (as far as I know) her first "real" boyfriend. I put "real" in quotes because what it means is "I really don't want to know about the romantic life of my child and this is the first boy whose name I have heard." So, real boy (no strings). She has visited him, spent time with him, and now, he's in town and I run a really good chance of meeting him. Hurrah. I am full of mixed emotions -- how am I supposed to feel? Should I feel like I am being edged out? That I, the closest approximation of a male in her life, am being replaced? Should I have a kind of hurt, a loneliness seeing her wish to spend time with someone else? Maybe. Maybe on some level I feel a little left out, but not as much as I have seen others hurt. I have known that this was coming and even if this boy is not "the one" I know that he will then be the first in a line of males who will take my place. Desdemona said it best and I understand what she meant in I, iii:

I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of duty.
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband.
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

[copyright Shakespeare and stuff]

I know that I am just the caretaker, the one borrowing my child's heart until the rightful owner is born, raised, and courts her properly to snatch it away. That's OK. I stole a girl from her dad and I am deeply indebted to Mr. C for allowing me the privilege...this is the way of the world. But as she is moving to that new stage, I feel like I want to share with her some thoughts (profound or otherwise) to let her know that I'm still her dad.

Kid: (yes, I often DO call her kid...h/t Arlo Guthrie)

I look at you and I see a 6 year old. I see a small, sleeping child. A small sleeping child who is really difficult to get up in the morning. A small child who can take 15 minutes to tie her shoes but who can be out the door in 10 seconds when the motivation is right. I see my big girl getting bigger - that strange mix of fearless world traveler and scared mouse who hates going to the basement alone. As I teach you to drive I see the opportunity to help you become aware of the world on a whole new level as I provide the wings through which you will inevitably fly away. I see a complex person who can be as lazy as lazy can be (without expending any effort to be lazy) and who can turn on the jets and get huge amounts done. But I still see a sleeping child who has crawled into my bed and is hogging my covers and kicking me in the face.

I am looking forward to meeting your friend. You have decided that he is someone special to you and that makes me happy. I hope you have high standards and that he meets and exceeds them. Demand greatness from others and show greatness to them, that's what I wish I always said! I want you to be happy. Every day, all the time. I want you to have someone you can laugh with, and cry to, and who makes your heart skip a beat. When I look at your mother, I still get nervous. After all these years, I still want her to be glad she chose me. I want you to find someone who inspires that feeling in you. When you are sad, it crushes me and it always will, so if you find someone who can help you out of sadness, day or night, then I celebrate that. But don't settle for someone who doesn't make you laugh and think.

I want you to be safe [he said, diplomatically]. Safety is multi-faceted. I want you to be careful in all decisions you make. You have, thus far, made many good decisions, and a couple of bad ones (which I don't intend to let you forget). You have been getting better at making good ones, but the temptation to do something stupid, or worse, rationalize stupidity until it appears as reasonable will become more pronounced and insidious and persuasive every day. [Laertes said something to this effect when lecturing Ophelia, "Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister, And keep you in the rear of your safety lies in fear: Youth to itself rebels, though none else near."] I will always want to be the one you call when you need help, but I fear the call and hope you never need that kind of help. The world will become less and less forgiving as you grow. Surround yourself with people who respect you, your ideas, your priorities and your wishes. Find people who support and protect you, and whom you want to respect and protect. Polonius's speech jumps to mind (you might recognize this from the SparkNotes you read while avoiding the play):

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade.

Choose friends wisely and with discretion, and intimate friends even more carefully. Make choices that reflect who you are and who you want to be, not what someone else wants you to be. To that end,

I want you to remember who you are. You are, as every teacher and principal has no doubt told you, an ambassador. You represent (among others) your family, your city, your country and your religion. You are how others will view your heritage and your pride and practice, your commitment to a cause and to the preservation of a way of life will leave a lasting impression on your world. You are bigger than you know and make an impact on the world at every moment. Make it meaningful and understand how infused with power every step you take is. No pressure here, but I hope you choose to live a life in accordance with an ancient set of rules which are struggling to evolve and yet stay true to an historical heritage. I hope you become part of that struggle, helping a people move forward while holding fast to the past.

I hope you find your place. I want you to find a geography which suits you personally, professionally and emotionally. I want to support your decisions, be they to live in the capital and work for some agency, or move to a farm and raise bunnies, or move abroad and show your pride in your ancient homeland. I want you to make the decision after a lot of long, hard thought: a decision which completes you and which you can live with, because you are the one who will have to. I hope you find your place in a community of like-minded people; I don't want you to find a group who are "ok" but whom you have to inspire, lead, or mold. I want you to share the burden of inspiring others with those others. Take your turn by doing something magical, but be around people who show you how to improve yourself as well. Don't try to be the angel in a group of devils because you think they will look up to you. Hamlet, again

the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the
force of honesty can translate beauty into his

Bottom line, the bad drags the good down before the good pulls the bad up. As your mother and I have said, we generally don't worry about what you will do -- we worry about the rest of the world and what it does. And sometimes, what you do.

I want you to be successful, but I can't measure that for you. I want you to create a vision of success which is informed by your heart and your head and which leads you to people, places and experiences that are as unique as you are.

I want to meet this boy, look him in the eye and tell him, "for now, and maybe for longer, someone I care about thinks you are OK. So I share that opinion. Don't ruin it." I won't stand there with a shotgun (or the modern day equivalent, a larger shotgun). I won't try to scare him or embarrass you, though, in time, I will do the former if I fear he hurt you and the latter because that's a separate obligation which I take seriously. I will respect your ideas and decisions up to a point as I hope you will respect mine. I will loosen the leash as I let you wander farther and farther away, while I hope never to give you enough rope to hang yourself. I will mix metaphors with impunity. I will trust you some today, a bit more tomorrow, and let's not get too far ahead of ourselves and worry about next week just yet.

I will love you, sometimes like you, and worry about you constantly. I'm your dad. I hope you find a guy who makes your heart sing, but remember, I'm the guy who wrote the words to the song and etched them there.

1 comment:

  1. As a daughter, daughter-in-law and mother to 3 adult sons, I read this with tears in my eyes. Thanks for sharing!


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