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Today is Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I'd offer advice, but who'd listen?

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By the time newspaper ink hits this page, my daughter will be a high school graduate. And while I am sure there is some way a person could find to encapsulate this feeling, to describe this emotion, to convey its meaning and its implications, it escapes me, meaning the person who could do such a thing is far more gifted with words than I could hope to be.
I want to offer words of advice to her, even if they are leftover bits of wisdom her mother and I have worked to impart on her at times past, cautionary tales about what leads -- and fails to lead -- to good decisions. I want to offer words of hope, instill in her ideas about her future promise. But really, what can I say that hasn’t been said in 18 years? What can I write on this paper that she’ll read and take to heart? No, she’s 18 years old and it’s her life. Hers to make the most of -- or the least. Hers to treasure -- or to cast away. Hers to blossom and bloom -- or hers to die on the vine. It’s hers now. All hers.
Advice from a middle-aged daddy to a budding woman is useless. She won’t listen. She’s grown. But just because you’re grown doesn’t mean you won’t -- or can’t -- continue to grow. And I hope she’ll do that, just as parents of all graduating seniors do. So I’ll simply say this, as any parent should: Erin, I’m proud of you. We’ve had our ups and downs, our highs and lows and we’ll have more to come. But I am proud of who you are and of what you hope to be. I want to help and I’m here if you need me, but I expect you’ll want to figure things out on your own. You don’t have to, you know, but I respect your decision. Just know your mother and I are here if you need us.
So I think about who else needs advice and I see parents struggling to come to terms with their identity and sense of purpose, potentially empty nesters who are watching the last of their children leave home. I’d like to offer some words of encouragement to them, something they can hold on to as they try to experience life for the first time in years as someone other than a much-needed parent of a child.
The truth of it is that neither of those groups will listen, and with good cause. When we were 18 -- and I mean all of us -- we didn’t listen either. We were young, fresh, beautiful, strong and we had limitless opportunity before us. We raced out of the nest, full throttle, determined to make our own mark, to be our own person.
My parents were not helicopters. They didn’t hover. They wished me well, occasionally helped me when I got stuck and let me figure it out on my own. I guess I am still figuring it out, but they’re still there, only we lean on each other a little more equally now. In not hovering, they taught me to learn to be independent and to sort out my own messes. Because there will be messes. And those messes will require sorting out. Only they’ll be your son’s or daughter’s messes (meaning not yours) and the best thing they can learn is how to sort those messes out themselves.
Truth be told, you parents won’t be listening either. You’re trying to figure out the new relationship, how to manage the moving parts, what to say, and perhaps, most importantly, what not to say. Nothing I could say to you is going to change that. There’s no playbook on being a good parent and if there were, it would be an incontrovertible fact that I wouldn’t be the right one to teach it. I’ve failed to execute every play in that mythical playbook more times than I can count. We’re all human and we’re all guilty of human errors and human emotions. So in that regard, I like to put the best spin on it and say I am particularly human -- more human, perhaps, than most.
So you’ll have to figure it out, too. And you will. And if I am lucky, I will, too.
Maybe the best advice I can give anyone is not to forget each other, to be there when you’re needed and other than that, you’ll have to figure it out. After all, it’s all yours and you’re trying make the most of it on your own. But the truth is, you’ve got a lot to sort out, so I doubt you’re listening.

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