We were on the road this morning on our way to drop off Super Mom to catch her flight. I was still a bit groggy, slowly warming up to the easy conversations that we now share before she leaves us for a few days. Most times, she is giving me a checklist of things that need to be done, places we need to go and the requisite ‘Honey-Do’s’ that are still left undone around the house.
During the course of our conversation, somewhere between the Bangerter Highway and 7200 South Exits on I-15 I suddenly and uncharacteristically blurted out, “I don’t know him anymore…”
Silence followed by more awkward silence. In the background Maroon 5 warbled on about standing at a payphone and wasting all of their change on me.
“What?” was all Super Mom could figure out to ask, her face a mask of confusion.
“Number 1,’ I said apologetically, ‘I don’t know him anymore.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s gotta be a reason why you said that.”
“Well, yeah I’m sure there is a reason for it but I don’t know why.”
“Um, maybe it’s because you don’t ask him about his life?”
Wait a minute, how did this become my problem? I’m the one who pointed out that Number 1 is becoming a stranger to me, how is this my problem? I’m always available; all he has to do is say something to me; shouldn’t he seek me out and ask me how my day is going? After all, I’m the working, coaching, volunteering dad and he’s just….I really don’t know who he is that’s how this conversation all started.
“The kids are not like you. If you feel like you don’t know him anymore, you should probably make a better effort to ask about their lives.”
“I’ve done that and all I get are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.”
“You need to ask better questions. You need to get it out of them and don’t be content until they open up to you.”
The truth is, I’m not losing my son – I’m letting him slip away. Figuratively speaking of course because he is still physically eating my food, taking up space on my couch and driving my cars to wherever it is he goes with his friends. This time next year he will be out of high school, away to college doing grown up things. A year from now in the eyes of the law he will be an adult. It must be a scary prospect for him even though I know that he has been ready for a long time to take on more responsibility and live an independent life free of any obligation to his parents. That is what scares us most as parents – that we are no longer essential.
I suppose avoiding meaningful adult conversations with him is my subconscious way of avoiding the truth about the next phase in life for him and for me: the realization that I have to let go and I can no longer keep him safe from whatever it is that scares me about the journey into the world he is about to embark on. For at least a year now Super Mom has cried private tears about this ominous and obvious next step in life and together we mutually hate it. But it is what we have prepared Number One and his brothers for all their lives.
So today I vow that I am going to do a much better job at the following:
1) Admit it and embrace it – He’s grown up, we’ve done (and continue to) do what we can to prepare him for the realities of life. We will always be here to support him, but part of his growing up is knowing that we have grown up as parents too. He will more apt to succeed on his own knowing that we have the faith and trust to let him make decisions that may result in failure, but failure is another way of growing.
2) No open-ended questions – I know how to ask questions to prompt and obtain a measured response. I want to have a discussion more than I want to fulfill a demand and Super Mom hit it right on the head when she said that I need to ask better questions. It’s what we do in the corporate relationships and it should also carry over into our personal lives.
3) Don’t stop teaching – Just because his time under our roof will soon come to an end, doesn’t mean that we should stop teaching him. My parents always gave me advice even when I was well into my adulthood. In Samoa they always say, “E le uma le galuega o le matua.” (A parents job never ends). I hope that when he is out on his own, that he will trust enough to keep coming back for advice.
We’ve been through a lot Number One and I. He’s the kind of kid that all parents wish their child to be and that’s probably more a father’s bragging than the truth but it’s the truth that works for me. I don’t want to regret not being the father that he needs, simply because I sometimes forget that I need to be the father that he needs me to be.