Let Go and Listen
Thirty-two years ago, when my son Peter was eight, we were driving south from downtown Kansas City to our home at 3600 Charlotte. At 27th street we saw an enormous wrecking ball smashing into a ten-story building.
“Dad, can we stop?”
“No. We have to get home for dinner,” I said.
“Rats,” he said, and the simplicity of his reply went straight to my heart. The car hadn’t gone a hundred feet before I realized that “no” was the wrong answer. But momentum is a funny thing, and I just kept driving.
During my 44 years as father I have worked with thousands of other people’s children. Almost all the parents were good parents. Many of them are simply marvelous parents, and none of them are perfect. I have a deep understanding of our cultural neurosis: we are too fearful about our children. That fear shows up in trying too hard to pave the way for them, to give them enriched experiences, to protect them from “the negative,” to ____(You fill in the blank. Add yours in the comment section)____.
We want so much for them, but for their own good and our own happiness we need to tease apart wants and needs. They want our attention. They want us to spend time with them. They want us to have fun with them—their interest or ours. They want us to work with them in the unfun things, too. They want our participation during teachable moments from “Go to your room” to “What’s an orgasm?” to “I don’t understand the homework.” They, also, want us to leave them alone. But they only need us to fulfill these wishes about half the time, and they have a tolerance for much less. If we let go of our agenda and listen, their needs and wants and ours often fall into place.
My heartbreak at not stopping when Peter said, “Rats,” is about my loss not his.
When Peter said, “Rats,” a voice inside me said: “Rick, do you really need to be in such a hurry? It wouldn’t hurt for you to take ten minutes to watch a building come down with your son. Think of the moment you could share. You, two, will be referring to it with each other and in conversations with others for the rest of your lives. This is a moment to connect. Don’t miss it.” But though I heard this message, I ignored it.
Take a grandfather’s advice. Don’t try so hard. Just love your children, be yourself and open yourselves up to all those times when your love for them will teach you something. Peter’s genius was looking out for Peter’s education, and Peter’s genius is still propelling him toward his destined greatness. Peter was fine missing that wrecking ball opportunity. My failure to listen to my inner voice didn’t hurt Peter’s education. The loss was all mine.