life’s dance – part two in the papa diaries series

The back story …

Last weekend, my dad gave me a binder full of the (perfectly organized and chronologically ordered) speeches he had written and delivered at the moving up ceremonies for his students over his forty-five year career as a middle school principal.

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 many of 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.

Although the speech that you’re about to read starts very similarly to yesterday’s, the body of it is different enough that I’d still like to share it. In part because I selfishly want to create a record of this fabulousness and in part because it’s just so damned good that it feels wrong to keep it to myself.

More and more often lately, I hear myself talking to my girls and I swear that, despite the obvious differences in tone and depth, it’s my father’s voice that I hear – his words, his inane yet thought-provoking questions, his terrible jokes that I suddenly find as hilarious as he does. More and more when I laugh – really, really laugh with my girls, it’s his laugh that fills that room.

“You really are sounding exactly like Papa,” Katie said to me recently.

“I know,” I said. “Thank goodness I like him so much or I’d be driving myself to drink.”

I can think of no greater honor than sounding exactly like Papa.

Here’s why …

2006

“Hi, Papa,” says Katie, my almost five year-old granddaughter. “Guess what, Papa?” she continues.

“I am the special child this week at school,” she says just a little too loudly.

“Does that mean you were picked by the teacher because you had done something very well?” I asked.

“No, Papa,” comes her slightly exasperated response, “everyone gets picked; it’s just my turn.”

“And what does the special child do?” I ask.

“I look at the weather and I put the sign up for what the weather is,” she carefully instructs me. “I put the sun up if it’s sunny and a snowflake if it’s snowing.”

“What if it’s sunny and then starts to snow?” I ask. “What do you do?”

Theer is a long pause as she thinks and then, “Do you want to talk to Mama now?”

“Yes,” I reply and then, “Bye, Papa. I love you Papa.”

Not a world-shaking conversation, but once again, as so many times in the past when I talked to Katie, I am almost confused by time and half-wondering if this is Jessica, my daughter, rather than the child of my daughter.

I remember Jessica speaking exactly as Katie does now. Her speech was clear and not very babyish or childlike. And she too was more than occasionally exasperated with my questions, which were designed to make her think and stretch.

Time has been my friend and it has been my enemy. It has permitted me to grow with my daughter but time has also quickly wrenched her away from me as she pursues her life and makes her own way. I miss the finger paints with her and the first bus ride to kindergarten. I miss the first time she baked bread with me, and the open school nights sitting in her very small elementary school desk as I listened to her teachers.

I miss the bedtime stories and discussions about her day. It has all flown by. Now, although, I am blessed with two incredible granddaughters, I wonder at it all and how fast it has gone.

As you sit here today and you look at your child before you and you bask in the joy of their success and growth, don’t you also feel the bittersweet of it all going past so quickly? Wasn’t it just yesterday that you felt their whole tiny hand hold your one finger while as toddlers they took their very first steps? Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were small enough to scoop up in your arms and nuzzle at your neck?

Now they are ready for high school. Their world has broadened considerably and it is about to get even bigger. When we first met and they were entering fifth grade, I told you there were ninety-six months until many of them would be in colleges and universities all over the country. Well, now there are only sixty months and counting.

In sixty months they will be out in a world that is exciting, challenging, and dangerous. It is a place that is not as forgiving as your home, rather it can be harsh and buffeting.

So how will you spend the next sixty months left to you to imprint the minds and souls of these wonderful children? Will you devote the time and effort necessary to nurture and guide or will you be too busy with your own lives to notice that the time is slipping away? Will you be strong enough to say no or temper their requests for the fast car or the party or the trip that is risky? Will you have the relationship built of time and consistency that will permit you to stay close enough to them to truly be a guide or will they go forward without you and take risks that are too dangerous — and potentially destructive?

Will you wonder one day at the success of your children or will you fill the years with pain and sorrow brought on by neglect or overindulgence?

The answers to these very powerful questions are within you – and them. Unfortunately, they are only on loan to us, and then they leave to make their own way. Until that time, however, you have the chance to have great influence. They must know your thoughts and values regarding sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs and risk-taking activities. They must know how you deal with core values such as honesty, responsibility, reliability, sensitivity, empathy, and so on.

You are the guide they measure their actions against. It is your value system that permits them to determine the boundaries of their own behavior. While they begin to push away, they also need you desperately. They need the distance to try things on their own but they also need a place to come to that is out of the rain. You must be that place, that sanctuary.

The message therefore is to hug them for as long as you may. Tell them you love them every day. Understand that love also means having the strength to say no and to stick with it when it is the best direction to take.

Too often, parents feel the need to swoop in and save their children because it makes them feel good to do so. What is the message we give when we save them from natural consequences? It is that in a subtle fashion, but with a direct message that we tell them we know they are weak and can’t handle the challenge. Most of all we save them because it tells US that we are still needed. They must, however, learn from the natural consequences of the world. We love them dearly, but those who hire them to work for them when they are adults may not, and they need to develop coping mechanisms now so that they may flourish in the future.

As all of this parenting whirls past us and as the time seems to move faster and faster, I like to recall a poem titled, “Life’s dance,” by David L. Weatherford. I offer it to you now.

Life’s Dance

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
and in your haste, not seen his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.

 If you work hard and love them consistently, if you stay close but permit natural consequences to teach, and if you mix in a little bit of luck, perhaps one day you too will hear, “Guess what, Papa? I am the special child of the week. I love you Papa!” from the child of the child sitting so proudly before you today. I wish that for you, along with all the love you and they can share.

 IMG_1899

{image is a 42 year-old newspaper cutting. It is a photo of my dad and me talking to each other on pretend phones at my nursery school’s Father’s Open House, November, 1973.}

IMG_1901-1

{image is a photo of Katie in her high chair, talking on the phone to Papa, Summer, 2003}

4 thoughts on “life’s dance – part two in the papa diaries series

  1. Your father is such a talented man! You definitely have a gift with words as talented as his. What a treasure you have in your hands, now! Each speech is tweaked for the classes moving ahead and he really gets you in the feels! Once again, thank you for sharing such gems with us. Your girls are destined for greatness, no matter where life takes them. With that beautiful mixture of just enough of you & Luau, they can’t go wrong. May I add one more thing meant with the utmost respect? I love the encouraging words your Mother always adds, no matter what and I love that she never speaks ill of your Father. The same way I see the best of you & Luau in your girls, I think it safe to say you have this same magical mixture from both of your parents. Have a great day!

  2. Has your father thought of publishing his speeches in a book? I know I would purchase his 45 years of wisdom in a bound publication. His speeches are just wonderful!! Please tell him I am thankful for his rich words of wisdom and that they should really be published! Here is a possible title, “Writings from the Middle-a principals wisdom from the last 45 years-lessons for for the in between and forever years” I think that title makes sense. Again, I thank you for sharing your father’s words on Diary and I thank him for his speeches!!! Just wonderful!!!

  3. I feel like you and now your father have come to the forefront of this generation for a reason. Thank you so very much for sharing and letting those of us who struggle with parenting decisions every day that we too will make it through. I appreciate you and your father so very much.

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