Fatherhood and letting go
I became a father for the first time two decades ago, a second time about 15 years ago. Each time, a basic principle helped guide me. Being a parent is about being there, being close, providing your child’s needs — while progressively, steadily letting go.
It begins when they are infants. You teach them to stand, crawl, walk. You teach them to do things on their own, from sleeping in their own room to eating without any help.
Those parts are easy. It’s the letting go when they are older that’s challenging.
Letting a child sleep overnight at a friend’s house can be nerve-wracking. But it doesn’t compare to the parental task that features the toughest example of letting go: teaching your child to drive.
I’ve done it twice. And it never got better. Fortunately, my sons turned out to be smart and sensible drivers who managed to learn despite having a nervous dad.
My eldest just graduated from college a few months ago. He lived with us for five months when we were together again as a family and we had some of the happiest days of our lives.
But I still remember feeling uneasy when we were at the airport waiting to board our flight home for the reunion with his mom and brother. I was happy to be with him again of course. But I couldn’t help anticipating the emotions my wife and I would have to go through when the time comes for him to leave again, this time for an extended and indefinite period as he begins his new life.
We said goodbye to him a week ago, another letting go moment that underlines the journey of a parent. In the end, it turned out to be a difficult but meaningful transition. The three of us — my wife, my youngest son and I — took my eldest to the airport to send him off. We had spent the last two days just hanging out, talking, sometimes arguing, but also just looking forward to the future.
We talked a bit about future transitions and milestones: when our youngest graduates from high school, when he leaves for college, when our eldest moves to another assignment. We did not talk about it, but of course I also thought of other transitions — like when they each get married and have families of their own, and many more.
“Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than hanging on,” Eckhart Tolle once said.
It’s so true. That’s what it was like for me last week.
At the airport, I leaned into the strength I needed and used in being a parent, as I watched my son walk away.