My Dear Children,
One of my greatest joys in life is watching all of you grow up. But I wonder what it must be like for you watching me grow up?
As you know, I visit with Bubby in the Home every day and I have a unique opportunity to take in the scene. The old folks spend most of the day shuffling in and out of the pastel lobby, urging their walkers between the oversized, stuffy, high-back chairs and the undersized, fragile, bent-back residents.
I see Mr. Weiss. He's probably about 82. He seems to need less assistance than the others, except in the dining room when he dons his white disposable apron. I nod and he flashes a timid grin. He's not exactly embarrassed, but his vulnerability does not evoke pride or self-confidence either.
Sometimes I gaze at Mr. Weiss for a long time...too long...and I wonder:
"How did he earn a living?"
"Does he have family? Where are they?"
"What made him happy?"
"Did he laugh a lot as a child?"
"Does he think about dying?"
And then the mind really starts wandering -- mostly to places we are reluctant to admit.
"Will I be here someday?"
"Will I feel alone?"
"How well will the mind work?"
"Will I need help with my apron?"
And as I contemplate what the distant future might bring, I also think about what the past was like and what the present is really all about. Things are no longer the same.
When you were younger, you may have seen me as flawless and unblemished. That's how kids are. That's how they need to be. That idealized image made you feel safe and secure. It gave you ambition and allowed you to dream. That's something that should never change.
Gradually you found out that parents are not God.
But gradually you found out that parents are not God. Yes, they create, they love unconditionally, they lead, and they provide -- but they are human. They have fears and questions, worries and imperfections. Those realizations about us can frighten you. But they can also bring us closer.
With your development into adulthood, the playing field has gotten smaller. We really are quite similar in the things we struggle with and in the way we cope and adapt. The challenges you face in parenting, marriage, money, God, and politics are challenges that I too have encountered or have struggled with. The fears you have about health, potential, performance, and insecurity are probably fears that I have contemplated, worried about, and have grappled with. So, I understand you better than you think I do. And perhaps, you can understand me better too. All of this is new to our relationship.
It wasn't long ago, in the throngs of your maddening adolescence, that you thought I was inept, hopeless, nerdy, and out-of-touch. You waited for me to "grow-up, get with it, and learn what life is really about." That was tough -- for both of us -- but we pulled through.
And in some ways you were actually quite right. As Mommy and I grow older (if you call 50s being older), we really do learn more of what life is about. We re-organize our priorities and spend more time with the family and with each other. We laugh more than ever but also take life more seriously. And our relationship with God is deeper and more meaningful than ever before.
Whenever we joke about "getting older" you seem uncomfortable, and that is natural. When we momentarily forget something simple -- like a birthday, a quotable quote from a grandchild, or who our Governor is (hard to keep track these days), you wince ever so slightly. The denial is palpable. It's hard to accept. Nobody wants to dwell on the aging process -- not his own and not his parents'.
I relish in your independence but pine for you to still need me.
I observe you today with your own families and rejoice at how wise, patient, and understanding you are with your spouses and children. (How did that happen?) Occasionally, I secretly try to take credit for your successes and your accomplishments, but I know that, in many ways, you have surpassed some of my own achievements and expectations for you.
I want so much to be useful, even indispensable, but often discover that you can handle most things quite well on your own, thank you. That creates within me a strange mishmash of pride and futility. I relish in your independence but pine for you to still need me. It's not as easy as it looks. That's how things seem to me now.
I truly believe, though, that the best years of our relationship are still ahead of us. Things will be different. It is no longer my job to examine how you make your decisions in life, trying to teach you responsibility and urging you along the right path. You have arrived at a new stage in life -- and so have I.
Still, the force of habit can be hard to break. Part of me still relates to you not as a person but as "my child," and part of you still relates to me as nothing more than "your father."
As the years advance, I find myself thinking more about purpose and life-goals, and the legacy I want to leave. I hope I can continue to inspire you and to give to you even as I respect you more every day.
I am quite aware that I can become preachy in my desire to guide you. I may become impatient when you insist on learning from your own mistakes. I may become sanctimonious in my quest for you to live a life that is less materialistic. But try to be understanding. I do mean well; I just try too hard.
I hope you see the messages that I am trying to convey in this letter as expressions of the over-flowing love I feel for each of you.
And... one more thing. As our gap narrows, I realize that you now have much wisdom and experience to offer me. I welcome that. Don't be afraid or hesitant to approach me with an insight or a good piece of advice that I can integrate into my life. It's a two-way street now and I'm still learning, you know.
Thanks for listening.
I have a feeling that the fun may just be starting.