Sep 152017
 

A friend recently left her youngest son at college, and is struggling with the emotions erupting inside her. I was reminded of a piece I wrote many years ago when we took our son to college. (Posted previously in November of 2016.)

“What’s happen’n here is a long goodbye.”
                                          Country artists Brooks & Dunn

Why, I wonder, is saying goodbye sometimes so very difficult?

When we took our son, David, to college many years ago, leaving him was harder than I imagined it would be. The morning after we returned home, I awoke early and could feel his absence weighing heavily on my heart. What made me so sad was the realization that the young man I would encounter in the future would be a different person. He would always be the son I love, but he would be my son in a different way—increasingly he would become be his own person. What’s confusing is that my sorrow did not erupt from a desire to have him remain the boy I had known. Quite the contrary, I was in awe of the thoughtful, responsible, creative, enthusiastic young man he was becoming. I was so amazed that I often kidded him by telling him I was sure the hospital must have given us the wrong child!

So if the deep sadness does not come from saying goodbye to the young boy as he became a man, then from where did it emanate? What I was coming to realize is that there was a second person to whom I needed to bid farewell—a person far more difficult to leave behind. I had to, I came to discover, say goodbye to the father I knew myself to be. I would always be available when he needed me, but the simple truth is that he would need me less. I would be less important—or maybe important in a different way—as he began to make his own way in the world.

And while I could love, and be inspired by, the young man we would welcome into the family, I was less comfortable with, or confident in my ability to welcome, the father who must show up. I could no longer treat David as if he were merely revision 1.01 of the boy who left us. But could I stop myself from offering the unsolicited advice that seemed so necessary when he was younger? How could I give up the fear that if I don’t watch over him—if I didn’t co-manage his life—that the suffering he would inevitably face would not destroy him? Where would I find the strength to know that he really did have the wisdom to create his own life?

Saying adieu to the father who is over-protective, the one essential to his son’s success, the one who must protect him from the oft-scary world…that is a really long goodbye.

Nov 162016
 

On a recent Operation Snowball retreat, I was deeply moved by a wise, kind and generous young man struggling to find himself within a difficult and heartbreaking life. When he and I spoke, I talked of the need for him, as he became an adult, to redefine his relationship with his parents. That conversation reminded me of a piece I wrote many years ago as our son left for college.

“What’s happen’n here is a long goodbye.”  

Country artists Brooks & Dunn

Why, I have been wondering, is saying goodbye sometimes so very difficult.

We recently took our son to college to begin his freshman year. Leaving him was harder than I imagined it would be. The morning after we returned home, I awoke early and could feel his absence weighing heavily on my heart.

What made me so sad was the realization that the young man I encounter in the future will be a different person. He will always be the son I love, but he will be my son in a different way—increasingly he will be his own person. What’s confusing is that my sorrow does not erupt from a desire to have him remain the boy I have known. Quite the contrary, I am in awe of the thoughtful, responsible, creative, enthusiastic young man he is becoming.

So if my deep sadness does not come from saying goodbye to the young boy as he becomes a man, then from where does it emanate?

What I am coming to realize is that there is a second person to whom I must bid farewell—a person far more difficult to leave behind. I must, I discover, say goodbye to the father I knew myself to be. I’ll always be available when he needs me, but the simple truth is that he needs me less. I am less important—or maybe important in a different way—now that he is beginning to make his own way in the world.

And while I can love, and be inspired by, the young man we are welcoming into the family, I am less comfortable with, or confident in my ability to welcome, the father who must show up. I can no longer treat my son as if he were merely revision 1.01 of the boy who left us. But how do I stop myself from offering the unsolicited advice that seemed so necessary when he was younger? How do I give up the fear that if I don’t watch over him—if I don’t co-manage his life—that the suffering he will inevitably face will not destroy him? Where will I find the strength to know that he really does have the wisdom to create his own life?

Saying adieu to the father who is over-protective, the one essential to his son’s success, the one who must protect him from the oft-scary world…that is a really long goodbye.

Oct 212015
 

Dear David & Kathryn,

Yesterday, on the suicide hotline, I spoke with a young man who is struggling greatly as he nears the end of his high school career. A number of years ago, life opened before him a horrific, hellacious valley. He fell in and was held captive for too many years. In the past year, not wanting his life defined by the choices that caused his fall, he found the courage to claw his way out of the abyss.

One of the miracles of the hotline is that callers, desperate for help, will often open completely and allow a glimpse into their heart and soul. This young man certainly did. I was witness to a heart filled with wisdom, generosity and love. And while his beauty was so very clear to me, all he could see were the mistakes that led to his trip into hell. He was nearly blind to the miraculous nature of his recovery. I was in awe of his courage on the journey.

Nearly an hour into our time together, I paused and said, “I don’t say this to many callers, but I love you young man. I am in love with who you are, and who you are becoming through the struggles you have faced, and the courage you found to overcome.” He began to cry. Through his tears he said quietly, “I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because you’re the first person who has ever told me they loved me.” In that moment, I found it impossible to hold back my own tears. How could a young man preparing for college, never have been told he was loved or lovable?

As I reflected on story of this young man, I thought of the two of you. I would be heartbroken if I thought there was even a moment in your life in which you thought you were either unloved or unlovable.

I am in awe of the two of you as well. I am inspired by the joy, creativity, wisdom, generosity and love that flow from each of you. Even if I have told you before, it cannot be said too often: my heart nearly bursts with love and admiration when I think of either of you…and the miracle you are in my life.

A sage in ancient India once observed a knife that can cut anything, cannot cut itself. As humans, we can easily see in others what we cannot witness in ourselves…just like the young man I spoke with yesterday. In moments of sadness, loneliness or challenge, even if you must take it on faith alone, remember you are truly loved, lovable and are a miracle in the lives of those around you.

Love,

Dad

May 222014
 

There are moments that emerge unexpectedly that remind me to slow and be witness to miracles.

Many years ago, I published an interview with a favorite author, Peter Block. One of the most touching moments came when I asked about his children. He said, “I always knew that the kids were the most important thing that would ever happen to me in my life. And If I was ever going to witness a miracle it was watching them grow up.”

At the time my own children were…still children. Today, as they continue to find their paths into the world, I have a much more vivid interpretation of Peter’s words. I woke this morning to a text from my daughter, Kathryn, with an attached picture. She said…Necklace

10 years ago, you bought me a beautiful and unexpected present for my 8th grade graduation. Today, I wore the same necklace to receive my Masters degree from John’s Hopkins! Thanks for everything dad. I love you.

I am reminded of a letter I wrote to her when she participated in a Kairos retreat in high school. The words I was given are truer today than when I wrote them so many years ago…

Why is your presence in my life a miracle? How else can you describe the flowering of someone so beautiful from soil that so often seems coarse and arid? As hard as I have tried, as much as I wished to be a perfect parent, I grieve over the endless times I failed. I am saddened by the hundreds of times you longed only for a listening and compassionate ear, and I found it necessary instead to attempt to fix or teach. I lament how often the stress of my life intruded on yours in the form of unjustified anger and frustration. I mourn the lost opportunities when a different kind of attention would have nourished you in more abundant ways. And yet, in spite of my failings, you emerge as a caring, compassionate, fervent young woman. Beauty is always a miracle. Too often we simply fail to take the time to sit quietly and be witness to it.

I am thankful every day for David and Kathryn, and that I was chosen to help shepherd them into this world. But days like today remind me to sit quietly and simply be witness.

Oct 292012
 

 

No matter what tragedy people are experiencing, their suffering is alleviated when they learn that others are standing with them. Some of my best teachers of this truth have been younger leaders. One in her twenties said, “How we are going is important, not where. I want to go together and with faith.”*
Many years ago, when our son was just a tyke, we visited a popular Renaissance Faire. Parking was difficult, forcing us to park on a muddy incline. As we tried to leave, the car became hopelessly mired, and I became frightened I would be unable to get it out. Before long my fear turned to frustration and then anger. David, who was strapped into a car seat in the back, began to cry and received the brunt of my emotion. We eventually extracted the car. On the way home, I fretted about my inability to control my emotions and the destructive nature of my words to the son I loved so much. When we arrived home, I pulled him aside and said, “David, next time this happens if you try not to get upset, I will try not to get so frustrated.” He turned to me and said, “Dad, next time let’s not park in the mud!”
I am happy to report that in more than 20 years since that afternoon, I have managed to avoid muddy embankments. I wish I could report similar success in avoiding being ambushed by my emotions. While I have managed on occasion to set initial conditions for the future based on compassion, caring, love and faith, I have, far too many times seeded it with my lesser self. Too often I have faced the world and allowed my insecurities about who I am to unleash fear, frustration and anger…and in doing so, have left those in my wake feeling less.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed to heal the nation through restorative justice as oppose to retributive justice. Victims and perpetrators faced one another. Victims told stories of the horrors they faced, and in many cases, those responsible admitted to their failing, regret and sorrow. Time and time again, victims reported great joy at being deeply heard, and sought no retribution. In the spiritual traditions of Hawai’i, Ho’oponopopo is a process to move beyond violations of the human spirit through forgiveness and reconciliation as opposed to retribution.
Our actions change the future, but over time and distance we can never predict its trajectory. The same is true for the emotions with which we germinate the future. Every change in initial conditions reverberates through the interconnected web of relationships that make up the complex adaptive system we refer to as Pacha Mama. And while I wish I had never parked on that muddy embankment, the fact that I did would have receded from memory many years ago had it not been for the way I did violence to my son. I grieve to this day for my inability to avoid that quagmire, and my inability to seed the future with forgiveness and reconciliation. David deserved better…and so did I.

So Far From Home by Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2012
Aug 122012
 
      “Truth never happens in real time.” Those are the first few words in the book “Sacrament of Fear” written by an old friend, Will Dresser. The moment I read them, they captured a profundity I did not completely understand. Perhaps I do now, if even just a little.
On July 28, I rode the final leg of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa—affectionately known as RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. This was the 40th annual trek, and 10,000 riders registered for the 7-day adventure. Additional souls can ride any segment, so, on July 28, there were somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 riders who peddled from Anamosa to Clinton—across the beautiful, rolling farmlands of eastern Iowa.
I left Anamosa at 7:15 a.m., and for the next five and a half hours, hundreds—sometimes thousands—of bicycles were captured between the west and east horizons of my world. It was amazing. I have never experienced anything like it in my life.
I will admit my euphoria ebbed and flowed as I rode. There were times every muscle ached. Due to the dearth of natural padding in the nether regions of my backside, I wondered if I might have a “dead end” before reaching the final miles into Clinton. Even though each of the small towns along the route offered refreshments, music and warm welcomes, I took only two short breaks. I feared if I stopped longer, I’d never convince my tender derrière to return to its rightful position saddled atop my metallic steed.
Arriving in Clinton, I felt a bit of a fraud. Lining the streets for the last several miles were thousands of local families, sitting on the front lawns, waving flags and signs, cheering us all on. “You’re doing great!” “Congratulations!” “Well done!” They were yelling primarily to the brave souls who were completing the grueling 7-day ride. Even though I had ridden only 69.4 miles, it was the longest ride of my life, so I allowed myself to accept the warm greetings and congratulations of the kind people of Clinton.
Some weeks later, however, I realize the truth of the ride was not in my euphoria at my accomplishment. It was in the message enrobed by my effort.
Our son, David, is webmaster for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, the QCCVB—if you go to VisitQuadCities.com, his are the fingertips that animate it. Over the past four years, he has hosted Judi and me for numerous events and extravaganzas. I love witnessing his great delight in having us there to support and enjoy the things that have become important to him. He has come to love the QuadCities and the two states that encompass them.
It was David who encouraged me to challenge the final leg of the 40thannual RAGBRAI. But this invitation into his world was different from those that brought us here before. It was clear, if I accepted, I would be on my own. Neither he nor Judi had any desire to put their body to this test. They were happy to act as “support crew,” and enjoy a leisurely drive from point of departure to the spot were riders dipped their front tire into the “Mighty Mississippi”, attaching an exhilarating exclamation point to the end of the journey.
When I finished that sunny afternoon in Clinton, Iowa, David’s only question was “Dad, did you enjoy it?” The euphoria I felt made my reply clear. But it wasn’t my words that answered his real question…a question many of us have of our parents. The truth, unavailable in real time, was that, having put so much of myself into this event—training for weeks and exerting most every muscle for more than 5 hours—was a tangible expression of my love and regard for him…and who he is becoming in this world. The physical act said more than I could ever put into words.
I have been reminded yet again that our actions do speak louder than words, and the intensity of our actions often speak to the depth of their meaning.
I do love who you are, David, and who you are becoming, more that words can ever express.
Nov 222010
 
This weekend, Judi and I joined our children in the Quad Cities, David’s adopted home, for a new tradition of enjoying their many pre-holiday events. If you haven’t been, I recommend it.
All weekend, the two of us sat in amazement in the presence of our children. I know David and Kathryn are no more amazing than millions of other emerging young adults, but since they are my children I demand the right to be in awe of who they are becoming, and speak of them as if they truly are God’s gift…because to me they are. What can bring me to my knees, is wondering why I have been given the gift of them in my life.
After expressing my disbelief on a social media page, a dear friend commented, in part, “Seems to me ‘everything’ you and Judi did explains their beauty.” I appreciate the generosity, but I see little way my efforts can explain the beauty in front of me this past weekend. As hard as I tried, as much as I wished to be a perfect parent, I grieve over the endless times I failed. I am saddened by the hundreds of times they longed for a listening and compassionate ear, and I found it necessary instead to attempt to fix or teach. I lament how often the stress of my life intruded on theirs in the form of unjustified anger and frustration. I mourn the lost opportunities when a different kind of attention would have nourished them in more abundant ways. And yet, in spite of my failings, they emerge as caring, compassionate, fervent young adults.
Judi has a growing passion, and a passion for growing, orchids. Last week, after more than a year, she coaxed one of her plants into rewarding us with three absolutely gorgeous blooms. They are stunning. And while I do not want to demean the loving care Judi gave them, their beauty is far greater than the effort to raise it. A bit of care, some water and a nourishing environment yield a thing of stunning beauty. The orchid rushes forth, becoming what it was always intended to be so long as it has a healthy environment and nothing gets in the way of its journey from seed to blossom. The magnificence of the blossom is contained in the tiny seed from which it grows. No matter how hard she might have tried, no matter the extent of her care or the nourishment she provided, Judi could not coax the plant into producing roses. Anything she might have done to try would surely have damaged this thing of beauty.
When people tell us we did a wonderful job raising David and Kathryn, I usually reflect that if we did anything well, perhaps we stayed out of their way just enough. We tried to provide a loving, nourishing environment, but we always knew they had to blossom into the amazing humans they were intended to be; an orchid if it was their birthright or a rose if that’s what was implanted in their soul.
So why have I been given the gifts of David and Kathryn in my life. Maybe, just maybe, they weren’t put here for me to be the teacher, but the learner. Perhaps they are in my life to teach me something about the unimaginable mystery, miracle and beauty of this Universe. This weekend was a magnificent lesson and I am grateful beyond words.