A dad’s voice

The summer after I graduated high school I sold my car and bought a plane ticket to Maui. I had some friends there who let me split rent on a two bedroom apartment which left me with exactly enough money to screw around for about a week. At the end of that week I spent my last dollars on a pack of cigarettes, a cup of coffee and a notebook. My bottom buck. What I remember most about that moment wasn’t fear or anxiety but my dad’s voice.

I had been hearing it on repeat in my head from the moment I stepped off that plane and into the first phase of my adult life away from home.

“Life’s pretty easy,” he said. “Go to work, make some money, be a decent person and then get up the next day and do it again.”

More than his words though, I felt his presence and it gave me strength. I drank my coffee and smoked my cigarette and wrote something in my notebook that I thought at the time sounded like Jack Kerouac from On the Road but probably sounded more like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Then I stomped some pavement and by the end of the day I had two jobs.

My point is this, until that moment I hadn’t truly appreciated the extent to which my dad’s words and actions defined me. I was rebel, a wandering poet who through my youthful exuberance had gleamed some truth about the universe and was out to discover it. Of course the real truth was that I was just a boy who was too dumb to be too scared. I got lucky that I grew up with a dad who delivered wisdom on the daily. One day when I finally really needed it, it was there.

I was thinking about that moment because today I finally let my boys walk by themselves to their summer engagement program by themselves and then to their grandparents house by themselves afterwards. It’s just a normal part of growing up that one day you don’t need your parents to escort you everywhere you go. As a parent though, it’s scary to let go. I can tell you I was more worried about letting my kids walk six blocks in Lander Wyoming than I was to fly over the Pacific Ocean with 500 bucks in my pocket.

But we practiced the walk all week. I drilled them on how to stop at every corner and look both ways before crossing the street. I quizzed them on direction and street names. They were ready. All that was left was to set them adrift and let them figure it out on their own. And at that point I think, all a parent can hope is that if they need guidance, they will remember your words. If they need strength, they will feel your presence.

This was of course just the first of many “letting go’s”. I will be keeping that thought in the back of my mind and just hope that I can do as good a job as my own dad so that someday when they really need me, I’ll be there.