Of all the things we do as parents, nothing is more primal, instinctive, and meaningful than holding our children. There is much I no longer remember about those early years, but I can recount for you every heartbeat, every sound emitted from each of my children the first time I held them. For them, it’s protective, soothing, comforting. For us, it establishes the relationship. It makes it real. This tiny living thing belongs to me. He needs me for everything. A bad day at work was never a match for the gentle cuddle of my baby’s body.
You hold your children every day of their lives until you can’t anymore. One day, you pick her up. You put her down. She runs away. And just like that, you will never pick her up again. The last time you hold your child is monumental. It’s both a happy graduation of sorts, and the end of the most critical stage of childhood. Yet, we don’t mark the occasion. We don’t cry. Or smile. We don’t ask for one last time. In fact, we don’t even realize it’s over.
Benny is 18 and off to college (via a year abroad). He drives and votes. He has a job and earns a salary. He is a man. An adult. How the hell did that happen?
We did it! We raised a child to adulthood. This occasion, like the final time I held him in my arms so many years ago, will pass without fanfare. As quickly as he came, he will be gone. And, while he will surely spend time here again, he will no longer be a permanent resident of this house. My little tax deduction is all growed up.
It was a trick of genetic engineering that enabled me to weed out my bad qualities and inculcate my son with the very best of me and my wife. He has my smile and height, but he has Francine’s sensitivity, kindness, and maturity. He managed to finish high school with a solid group of exceptional friends. Unlike my childhood (and some adulthood) friends, they are friends in every sense of the word. Selfless, sensitive, generous. They look out for him and would never intentionally cause him pain. It may seem trite but it’s a solid foundation for his next stage of growth.
I saw a video recently in which a man adopted a baby lion cub but, years later, released him into the wild when the lion grew too big to safely care for. After about 10 years, the two were reunited in a scene that both warmed my heart and scared the crap out of me. This manly-man, strong enough to raise a lion, cried like a baby when he released him, and then again at the reunion. I stifled a giggle of superiority. I understand the attachment, I argued, but I think the lion will survive just fine in his native habitat.
I am no longer sure. Just as my legal obligations are terminating, I am more worried than ever. Is Benny ready for the wild? How will he survive? There is no way we taught him even the most basic survival skills. The world is a huge, scary, terrible place. Especially for the good guys.
So, here it is. Don’t be influenced by money, love, success, or fame. They are truly the path to the dark side. Chase compassion relentlessly. Never compromise your principles or the people who rely on them. And, in a world where dishonesty is the standard, always speak the truth and always keep your word.
This advice is hardly novel. Youtube any graduation speech and you will hear the same words in one form or another. They are, after all, the easiest things to say to a child. But, as common the advice, you must concede, the message is quickly disregarded on the way to College.
So maybe this is the better advice. Don’t change. Grow. Maintain the same innocent narrative, the same wide-eyed ideals and lofty goals that got you here but expand them to meet your growing universe and influence.
You made us proud. Now go. Before I change my mind.
Can I hold you one last time?
*** Apologies to my closest friend for the use of his title.