Once I left the house I really left the house. I didn’t go back on the weekends much and didn’t spend any college summers at home. I wasn’t really a “homebody.” So on the “letting go of your child” scale I certainly helped out my parents by never being around once I turned 18. In fact, my parents took all my stuff out of my old room and boxed it up—and that room became decorated with lacy, flowery things, transforming my teenage jock room into a bed-n-breakfast style guest room.
I was on my own in many ways—and could handle life’s problems and decisions without much help. But I was not really a full adult yet. You know the type—a tweener of sorts—that have many of the outward signs of adulthood, but are still very immature in some respects. You can have a car, a home to live in, even a fiancé, and still be very much a large boy or girl inside. This was true for me. I was to be married two months after school, and I was making one of the biggest decisions of my life and now it would affect not only me, but the woman I had chosen to marry.
I had been pursuing an opportunity to move to Washington D.C. to work with a few friends of mine who were all planning to move there and start a church and live cool metropolitan lives that involved a lot of hanging out in coffee shops. The time to pull the trigger on moving was approaching and I knew that I needed to make plans to move or do something else. The only problem was that the head guy going wouldn’t make a decision. He would never nail down his plans and would never give me a date on when he was planning to go. The more I talked to him about it the more I realized that I was going to have to move there first—with my new bride all by ourselves in a city we had only visited once waiting for the cavalry to arrive so we could have the life promised us.
Going to Dad for Advice
During this process there came a point at which I asked Dad for advice. I was really searching and could go either way on the decision. The next day Dad drove up the hour to my college and took me out to lunch. We mapped out my options on a napkin like we had done hundreds of times before on so many smaller issues. He helped me realize what I really wanted to do—which was move away to Boston and go to school with my new wife… starting a life of our own not dependent on my old college buddies or either of our families.
Even more, Dad made clear to me after I knew what I wanted to do that I needed to “get out” of the current plans I was involved in quickly and decisively. He started to act a bit like a political “spin doctor” for me there in the restaurant, encouraging me to simultaneously resign from the project to several people, including one of my closest friends I was planning to work with. The plan involved e-mailing the letter to one leader, who happened to be in South Africa, and then walking over to my friend’s office and handing him the red-hot resignation letter to quit the deal. At the time I thought Dad was totally crazy. Why go to all that trouble? What did I care if the other guy got the chance to “spin” it his way before I got my story out?
Only a few years later I realized what Dad was doing—and I was glad I followed his advice. He was coming to the rescue for me. He knew that it would look really bad to back out of the project which I had been such a crucial part. He instinctively knew what was eventually found to be true—that none of the others would start the church if I pulled out—and that I would be labeled as the one that pulled the plug on it in the end if I didn’t crisply and simply state why I was resigning from the project in the first place. This became even more important in the following years as I worked for some of the same people who got the resignation letters back when I was only 21 years old.
I now wonder how Dad must have felt in those weeks. Did he have that typical Dad feeling of “I need to speak my mind to him but I don’t want to influence his decision?” Did he wonder if he just needed to “let the chips fall where they may” and let me go whatever direction I chose? In the end I believe that letting go of our children is certainly a major hurdle we Dads must face. But likewise, once we’ve let go, it can be difficult to intercede for that child again when they really need it. In the case above and in many cases our kids face in young adulthood, they actually do need us to intercede and help them through it all. They don’t need us nagging them everyday about doing this and that. They do need us when so very much of their future is riding on their decisions. Too often we Dad’s get it backwards—preferring to be a continual nag on the little things rather than a wise counselor when our kids need it on the big things.
Questions to Ask Yourself or a Group of Other Dads:
- What’s some of the best advice you have given your kids lately (whether they followed it or not)?
- Who have been the wisest counselors in your life so far?
- How could you be more like them?
- On what issues do your kids take your advice as nagging instead of wise counsel?
- What life choices do your kids face in the next 10 years that you can be ready for?