This I Believe

Danny - Oswego, New York
Entered on March 20, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood

Life’s a Game – Let the Children Play

I believe that no matter how clearly I foresee the perils guaranteed to wreak havoc in the lives of my two adolescent children, trying to help them navigate around this impending turbulence would do more harm than good. For me, the hardest part of parenting isn’t enforcing curfews, breaking up fights or dodging runaway hormones. I have a hard time with simple things like watching my children get hurt. Maybe my protective curtain was drawn after a childhood illness nearly took the life of my daughter Ali when she was just seven years old. That was ten years ago, however, and today a vibrant, athletic 17 year old helps soften the image of the sick little girl that once haunted me. Perhaps my hovering is the product of my son DJ’s first run-in with the school bully, a turncoat friend who pounded him senseless over a loosely threaded rumor. Physical pain, though, is not what has me wringing my hands these days. I’m having trouble watching my kids wrestle with the emotional bumps and bruises inflicted during this game of life.

As a 46 year old mid-life crisis survivor, I have somehow rationalized that I qualify for seasoned veteran status in this particular arena. With a rolodex of real life experiences to draw from, it seems I should easily be able to launch a pre-emptive strike against any heartache zeroing in on my kid’s delicate egos. Should I though? Case in point; Ali is a senior co-captain on her high school basketball team where her marginal skills are more than offset by her shear determination on the court. After a sub-standard individual performance in her final game, her team lost. I knew the post-game fatherly embrace would be difficult, but it was much worse than that. A quick scan of my personal database, using “soothing sports clichés” as search criteria, turned up nothing. I tried to ad-lib but my garbled words fell flat, leaving her sobbing uncontrollably for nearly an hour. I was furious. Not with my daughter but with the cruelty of the moment. I knew this would happen. I knew someday this sports thing would hurt her feelings and yet there I was, unable to summon a simple anecdote to ease her pain.

Then it hit me. I believe life occurs on a universal playground where everybody learns how to cope by playing the game on their own and that this rule is not subject to appeal. The lumps I’ve taken along the way are mine alone and cannot be passed on through generations. Any lessons I’ve learned can be shared but not inherited, referenced but not cloned. I had hoped that my characteristic defense mechanisms and deft avoidance techniques could be packaged and readily applied whenever one of my children ran up against adversity. I could carry the silver bullets, dispensing them as needed to ward off teen angst and slay the demons that I knew were lurking. How wrong I was.

An upbeat phone call from Ali the very next day after her meltdown confirmed my belief that any turmoil in my children’s lives is fleeting and how they respond will ultimately define them after this necessary indoctrination. Today’s earth shattering crisis will barely leave a scar but will serve as an emotional boot camp designed specifically for their formative years. I’ve done my best to model behaviors and will continue to do so, but that’s really as far as I can take them.

So it’s back to the sidelines for this spectator, and with college admission rejection letters, relationship woes, and painful good-byes all just around the corner, it looks like the game might just get a little rough. I hope they play well.