I was with friends this weekend who have daughters and I was able to observe some of the ways girls approach social events. This is like living on the other side of the lake, the view is entirely different, but still the same lake. Jordan enjoys dressing up, unlike most of the other guys we know. He has what he likes to call, “swag”, which I have to guess is short for swagger and could be a parallel word for style. For some reason it is not as hard on me to see him grow up as it was when it happened with Donny.
I had possessiveness over Donny that was fierce, protective and impenetrable. My thinking ran in this direction, “he is protective over me, he likes to have my approval, he loves me in a special way, he likes my cooking, my home environment and I’m not at all interested in sharing that with some cute girl with a pony tail that flips, giggles that ripple and eyes that are practicing the flirting technique.” In essence, I was jealously standing between my son and any girl who would take away from me what I have enjoyed our whole lives together.
There is this moment when he appears looking like a man for the first time and it’s like a slug in the stomach. I instantly know the way we were will not continue to be the way it is going to be, and that makes all sorts of fears bubble up in me. And I feel deeply, selfishly sad to see it slip away. I was never in a hurry for him to cease being the little prince who pulls out the sword to protect the queen and love her with taut loyalty. And the queen so enjoys making his favorite meals, cheering on his great efforts, and making his life warm and comfortable. She doesn’t really want someone else to come along and do her job. What will she do with herself then?
These teenagers come down the stairs trying on the look of a grown-up, and we all at once scream, “no, stop, go back, I’m not ready for this at all.” Instead, we have to smile, choke our feelings down, and say, “you look so good, here let me open the door for you, go have a good time”. Then we drop our heads and invite ourselves to a lavish pity party for one.
When I went through this emotional gut ache with Donny I realized something important that is helping me with feeling more peace as Jordan goes towards manhood. It is not necessary to lament what I’m losing because as we go forward I have so much to gain in our relationship. I can’t stop the train, I need to sit forward facing and enjoy the company as we journey forward. Standing at the rail of the caboose with my arms stretched wide reaching toward what we had is not a place to linger. It is good to look back and give thanks for the memories, hold them dear, but I have to make a decision to turn and go forward with my son who is moving in the other direction, with or without me. I think I’d like to be with him.
And as they bring young women into our lives I can set aside the jealousy, and rather than feel replaced, I can fully grasp that I will have a new special relationship of my own with her. I will eventually have more, not less. I’m not so afraid of being replaced and ditched like I used to feel certain would eventually happen to me. I was sure my four sons would all get married and never call me again. I really don’t see it that way anymore. I hope and pray for deep rich relationships with my daughter-in-laws, some day.
I have wondered all weekend if it is more intense for a father of a daughter to watch her become a woman than it is for a mother of a son to see him become a man. Initially I thought of course it is. But I think there is the same jealousy, same sense of loss of the child, knowledge that it will be so different going forward, fear of change, and abandonment of the position we held of being the one… letting go of the reins is scary when you feel off balance…what if I fall hard…can I trust? Will they get hurt? (God help the person who hurts MY child.)
If you are parenting a little boy or girl, I urge you to stop thinking about all the things you ought to accomplish today, look them in the eye and devour the moment as they are precious, yours, and so perfectly innocent. Embrace the time and memorize it because they really do grow up so fast. Don’t forget to enjoy their precious childhood, and maybe it won’t be so hard to see the woman appear, or the man stand up tall, because when you blink and open your eyes, it will have happened.