My son, Jeff, is 42. He lives about 1,200 miles away, and I haven’t seen him but
for our two or three brief visits a year since his mother and I divorced when he
Despite my considerable failings as a father, Jeff has grown up to be a smart, creative, principled, loving man. He’s had his share of disappointments and heartaches, but he’s carved out a life that works for him. And, while I may not agree with all the decisions he’s made, I respect them…and him.
Suddenly, this big, six-foot-two, 42-
year-old man shrank before my eyes.
When we’re together, as we were for a few days this past week, it’s hard to remember that Jeff is my son. Sure, we share memories from his childhood; I teach him whatever I know that he's still interested in learning; I ask about his life, and offer advice and support when he needs it.
But usually it seems we treat each other more as peers than as father and son. Lots of good-natured give and take—joking, challenging, comparing tastes, the occasional boast.
This visit has been an especially rewarding one. For a quiet man who generally keeps to himself, he seemed to truly appreciate me and all his aunts, uncles and cousins gathered to celebrate Independence Day as a family. And I enjoyed him…
WHERE’S THE TIME GONE?
Yesterday, I drove Jeff to the airport. We hugged, exchanged I love yous and said good-bye. Then he turned and walked toward the terminal doors. Suddenly, this big, six-foot-two, 42-year-old man shrank before my eyes. All I could see was him as a three-year-old.
My throat tightened and the emotion welled up. At that moment, I saw in him all the beauty, innocence and vulnerability I find in my three-year-old grandson, but which I thought I’d long since lost with Jeff. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever felt quite that same chemistry of tenderness and awe, even when he was that little kid, when he—and I for that matter—needed it most.
Isn’t that something we all dream of:
turning back the clock in every way
but for our knowledge?
We parents always seem to learn these lessons too late. During our kids’ tender youth, we’re so overwhelmed with the enormity of our responsibility and so underwhelmed with our own competence and emotional stability that we’re barely holding it together, much less exuding pure patience and love.
Sadly, none of us ever gets a do-over on those parts of parenting we botched as twenty-somethings. Or do we?
I realize Jeff will never again be three. But he will be forty-three, and, give or take a few decades, isn't that as good an age as any to start seeing anew that pure, precious, child-like heart and soul I know still reside at his core? And perhaps be more like the father I wish I’d been so long ago?
This is something I guess all parents—and eventually our progeny—learn: that at some deep, internal level we continue to see them as little children, no matter what their age.
After all, my son is still my son, and I am still his father. God willing, I have some time to know and appreciate him as if I were new to the game—but with the added perspective, patience and wisdom only 40 years can bring. (Isn’t that what we all dream of: being able to turn back the clock in every way but for our knowledge?)
Try, if you can, picturing them as
small, sweet and innocent once again.
My little epiphany has been a blessing, even though it comes late, during the slow, certain ebb of my life. My guess is that many fathers who divorced when their kids were very young never get that chance; some may not recognize it when they do.
Has your relationship with a grown child—or anyone for that matter—grown old? Do you find yourself keeping just a little distance between you, or perhaps taking him or her for granted, because you're both adults? Try, if you can, picturing them as small, sweet and innocent once again. Because deep inside, under all those layers life's woes have heaped on them, they still are...we all still are.
It's not like your time together is suddenly going to transform to true magic. But the way you feel about them just might. If they notice something's different, let's just let the reason be our little secret.