a moment in time

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{image is a photo of my dad at a lectern, circa 1998}

Among the myriad joys of spending more time with my dad in recent days is that he’s been unearthing treasures from the past and sharing them with me, Luau and the girls. This weekend, he showed the girls photos of the “boys” (his two Havanese fur babies, Flash and Gordon for the uninitiated) as puppies (Oh my God, the cutest thing EVER) and a bunch of our beautiful Noe showing her first horse, Cayuse.

And then he handed Katie a thick white binder marked Speeches. He opened it, flipped through a few pages and said, “Read this one aloud, kiddo.”

The binder was full of the (perfectly organized and chronologically ordered) speeches he had written and delivered at the moving up ceremonies for his students year after year. After 45 years as a middle school principal, you’d think the speeches might have become stale. But that wasn’t my dad. Although they each carried the same core themes: the miracle of birth, the honor of parenting, the stunning passage of time, each one told a slightly different story. Although each one pleaded with parents to use their time with their children wisely and to remember how limited that time really is, each implored them to focus their lens ever so slightly differently, as was appropriate to each group.

When I asked how he’d feel about me sharing the text of the speeches, he pointed to the binder. “It’s yours now,” he said. “Do whatever you’d like with it.”

While the timelines and specific milestones to which my dad refers in his speeches may not apply for our kids, I believe that much of what he says is universally applicable. And with that, I am honored to share my dad’s words (edited very slightly for length and format.)

Note: His school was grades 5-7, so when he refers to 60 months until high school graduation, it is because the kids started high school in the 8th grade.

2007

“Pa Pa. Hi, Pa Pa!” came the clear, distinct and a bit-too-loud little voice over the phone as my then five-year old granddaughter greeted me.

“Who is this?” I responded, just to tease a little.

“It’s Katie,” said the now-measured but somewhat incredulous voice.

“Oh! Katie. How are you, Sweetheart?”

“I’m fine, Pa Pa. Pa Pa, do you want to known what we did in school today?” Without waiting for an answer, she said, “We had a marine biologist and we found out how starfish eat.”

“Was it a boy or a girl marine biologist?” I asked.

“It was a lady, Pa Pa, not a child,” she sort of scolded.

In the background I could hear Brooke, my three year-old granddaughter, singing Itsy Bitsy Spider. All of this banter and singing was just a delight, but as I spoke with Katie I was thrown into almost reliving my daughter, Jessica, Katie’s mother, MY baby, who spoke just as clearly and articulately when she was five years old. Where did all those years go? What happened to my little girl, now a successful woman, wife, and mother.

What happened during the intervening years that seem now to have melted away? The baby sounds, the crawling, first steps, nursery school, kindergarten and the yellow school bus — all happened. Elementary school happened, Brownies, gymnastics, middle school, high school, college, career, husband, houses, and two incredible grandchildren — happened. It all seems like only a moment in time.

As I stand here to speak to you about your children and your lives, and I observe my own wife, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters, I can’t help but to realize how fast the time disappears and how quickly life moves forward. Our children are seemingly on loan to us for such a short time before they are gone from our every-day lives. I have often wished for the child that as an infant and a toddler always needed me, but that time went by in what seems like only a moment.

Now those who are only on loan to you sit before you in this time and in this place. This place that has also loved them as you have for three years – thirty-six months. And those thirty-six months have flown by and now are only good and loving memories to build upon. Sixty months remain, and I promise you that they too will fly by in what, one day very soon, will also seem like a single moment in time. If you think about it:

There were sixty months from their birth to the start of kindergarten. How quickly did that time pass?

There were sixty months from kindergarten to the start of middle school. How quickly did that time pass?

There were thirty-six months from 5th grade to this moving up ceremony. Didn’t middle school seem to start just yesterday?

Yet here they sit before you, a magnificent class of one hundred and sixty-one individual little miracles. Each a little frightened but eager for the future that lies before them. All are ready for the challenge.

Sixty months from the start of 8th grade to high school graduation.

Editor’s note: As Katie read the passage above, my dad looked at me and mouthed, “Forty eight.” Yes, dad, I know that for us, there are only forty-eight months left.

Another benchmark that will fly past and when that sixty months, which is the blink of a parent’s eye, passes, many will fly off to colleges and universities throughout the country. Out of your home and its comfort and protection, out of your easy reach and loving touch. Into a world of challenge and excitement and hard work.

So what will YOU do over these next sixty months to nurture, support, and mold the clay? You have such a small sliver of time, just at the very moment that they will begin to pull away from you, to make that lasting impact and influence their character and direction.

Will you be too busy with your career or business, life, hobbies, or interests to stop and ALWAYS, ALWAYS listen? Will the accumulation of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ take the place of spending time with them, or will you very deliberately make sure you focus as much time and energy as possible developing and deepening the connection and bond between you?

It is that connection — or lack thereof — that makes all the difference when they confront the storms and thunderclaps that life will surely present. What store of relationship with you will they have to draw on? Will it be meager? Tentative? Or will it be rich, deep and broad? Will it be enough to sustain them through life’s trials? Will they know enough to incorporate your values well enough to make them their own? Are the values that you are modeling for them the ones you really want them to own?

You can see that I have many rhetorical questions, but you – you hold the answers. For it is within you to determine how the next sixty months, which is, again, just a moment in time, will be spent. Will it be invested or squandered, compounded or lost?

As you travel through the next fleeting months, will you have the courage to say No to risky activities or will you provide the fast car, the alcohol parties, say yes to the spring break in the Bahamas? Will your heads and hearts rule or will you allow the peer pressure of sixteen to eighteen year-olds to prevail? Just a word of simple advice: If it doesn’t sit well in your head or in your heart, say no.

It feels to me like ever since the seventies, more and more parents have forgotten that they have the power, the right, and, more importantly, the obligation, to say no and back it up. No is not a dirty word. Rather, it is a matter of articulated, clear, and measured judgment. Will you muster the strength to exercise your responsibility? Will you say no in the face of the wave of emotion that will be presented to you to win the right? Will you offer good counsel and then let your child demonstrate their ability in many smaller trials so that you can be sure you are serving them well when you say yes to the big ones?

Given the quality of the very fine young people in this particularly wonderful class, I would guess that you will continue to do very well indeed. If you work at it, if you stay close to them and nurture your relationships, if you teach them well and mix in a large measure of love and good fortune, you will certainly be successful.

One day, just a short while from now, you may even be delighted to receive a special phone call from a child of your child who says, “Hi, Pa Pa. I love you, Pa Pa.”

I wish that for you — and for them.

Thank you.

(Psst, Dad — here’s where the comments are … http://tinyurl.com/qhqjudu)

6 thoughts on “a moment in time

  1. What a beautiful, perfect speech! He describes time passing so quickly, exactly how I feel it does. Some days I wonder how it’s possible that my baby girls are in college and beyond. Wow. What a lovely gift you have from your Dad.

  2. You warned me, but here I am sobbing away in the Whole Foods parking lot. Thanks for sharing this. The notes about depth of relationship and short months/fast years timelines were on my mind this morning. Hugs to you and yours!

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