In a strange turn of events, I am learning to be a father all over again.
No, there is not an unexpected addition coming to our current empty-nesting stage of life. Rather, unexpectedly, the change is coming from inside of me. What I’m learning is once your kids bloom and leave the nest, the tools in your parenting toolbox find themselves being reshuffled.
My wife and I have two wonderful young adults. Both honest, hard-working, kind-hearted, and are genuinely concerned about those around them. And with their independence comes us searching through the parenting toolbox for assistance, using familiar tools but in different ways.
I remember Day One with each of them. While I didn’t know what to do, friends assured me my instincts would bubble up and I’d be fine. If that didn’t work, there were millions of books in print to help me become an uber-parent. I soon owned a library.
Today, however, is a new world. As suddenly as children came into our lives, they are gone from beneath the protection of riding out storms beneath the safety of our wings and nest. And the role as a parent, or my case as a father, are now noticeably different.
The rules of life have not changed – honestly, caring for others, and knowing your happiness is self-selected choice remain universal. But as a parent, migrating from instruction to coaching is increasingly important. Not every challenge in their lives requires input or action on my part. And that, if anything, is a difficult instinct to suppress as a parent.
Recently our daughter found herself on the front end of a life-changing medical condition. And while we are blessed to be able to help her on both medical and emotional support fronts, the real battle is being waged inside of her mind. And increasingly we realizing this a moment in life where the outcome of her internal struggle will be shaped by more of what is inside of her than anything we can do or say. For the best outcome, she needs to be in charge.
Now, nearly 6-months into this chapter, we’ve met a new person, one suddenly mature, able to look forward without being unsettled by fear, and genuinely interested in helping others with a similar condition. She is truly a remarkable person and one I am proud to call my daughter.
And our son, who seems to have a denizen gene sewn into his soul, is possibly one of the most caring and kind people I’ve ever met. With his mother’s heart and itch to wander and explore all the world offers, he makes me proud to know he calls me dad.
When I thought of parenting, I pictured the window from infant to teenager. What I’m learning is there is a whole different spectrum ahead, one as demanding of change on me as it was on them as children. And for that, I thank God for the opportunity to be a father and this rewarding journey.