through his eyes

The back story

For years, I’ve wondered how my girls would view Diary as they got older and, as they recently have began to (at least periodically) read it. I wondered if it would feel, as some warned me when I started writing, like a betrayal of their trust or if it might, as I hoped, be a gift to them – a record of their lives through their mama’s eyes.

This is, of course, uncharted territory – this private-as-public interactive format. There is no precedent for how it is to be received by the next generation, no one to tell us what worked and what didn’t.

I’ve tried hard to strike the right balance between public disclosure, especially as it relates to advocacy and the need to demystify autism, and a non-negotiable respect for what is, and must be, private. To that end, I think I do a much better job of it now than I once did. More and more, I talk to my girls about what I write, ask them what they’re comfortable sharing, yet still impose my judgment when I believe theirs is too lax, their impulses untempered by the foresight and reason and come with experience.

But still the question remains: How will my children view all of this? What will it mean to them? Will my words be a source of embarrassment or pride? Will they offer what they see as a skewed perspective or valuable insight into their childhoods when memory fails? Will they serve to guide them should they choose to embark on their own journeys as parents or will they be held up as an example of yet another of their mother’s failings?

Over the past week, I’ve been sharing with you some of the speeches that my dad found and gave to me last weekend. The words that he so meticulously crafted to share with the parents of his students at their moving up ceremonies year after year. As a middle school principal, his insights were — and remain — so valuable, his wisdom and counsel so relevant, his message to parents that as our children begin to push away that – that — is the very moment in which  they need us the most, so urgent. But there’s far more to the speeches.

As a kid, I was always taken aback when I met anyone who worked in my dad’s school, who had kids in my dad’s school, or had ever had occasion to attend one or more of his moving up ceremonies. The year that he retired, Luau, the girls and I drove down to New York to attend his last ceremony. A thousand people were in the audience that day. A THOUSAND, for a class of approximately one hundred and twenty kids.

As we joined them for the reception following his words, I swear that every one of the thousand came up to tell me not just how much he meant to them and the school and how much he’d impacted their children and them as their children’s parents, but to say that they had loved following along with me and my family throughout the years.

People I’d never met hugged me like family. For nearly two hours, I stood on what became a de facto receiving line as parents and grandparents told me they’d been hearing about me for all these years and how wonderful it was to meet me, Luau, and the girls. Every time I looked questioningly at my dad, he’d shrug and say, “I talk about you.”

As I’ve read through many of my dad’s speeches this week (with so many left to go), I’ve read through my own history through my father’s eyes. I’ve read about my birth, my infancy, my toddler years, about a love that was so all-encompassing that it hurt. I’ve read about need and loss and the selfless celebration of what the loss represents even while mourning the need. I’ve read about the first time I bought him lunch as an adult (and the only time he accepted) and what my job sounded like to him from the other end of the phone. I’ve read about the day that Luau asked him for his permission to propose to me, and how he said, “I can’t grant you permission; only Jessie can. But I can, and do, offer you my blessing.” I’ve read about the day I called to tell him he was going to be a grandfather and the moment he became one.

I’ve stopped, my eyes full with tears, and clutched the notebook to my chest, drenched in gratitude for the gift of my life through my father’s eyes — and his heart.

He wrote a blog before blogs existed. He delivered it, not from a computer screen but from a podium, to his fellow parents and all of those otherwise invested in the lives of their children. They devoured his stories and grew to care about the people in them. And, when the time was right, he handed those stories to me.

I hope upon hope that someday my girls will feel about my stories as I do about my dad’s.  I can imagine no greater gift as an adult than a chronicle of your history through the eyes of pure, unconditional love. Nothing more valuable as a parent than the accrued wisdom of the years, and the perspective from the other side — the side that wanted so much to cling to you for dear life as you spread your wings, yet celebrated your every attempt to fly.

I am so grateful, in so many ways.

Thank you, Dad.

IMG_1911

{image is a photo of my dad and me on my wedding day, 1999}

9 thoughts on “through his eyes

  1. You are blessed to have such a man in your life. And he must be so proud to see his lessons bear fruit through you and your family.
    Wishing you many more years and many more memories.

  2. I have eye leaks like you wouldn’t believe! I can’t thank you enough for sharing so much of your family and history with us. I am loving reading about your Dad’s speeches and how they seem to be intertwined with your life. This gift is priceless. I can see Katie devouring your blog entries as you are your Dad’s speeches. I can picture her reading stories from her childhood(shared, with her permission) and bringing back fond memories that are tucked away in the corners of her mind and heart. You have an incredibly talented family. Thank you for sharing them with us. I look forward to reading more from your Dad’s speeches. You both paint pictures with words that are surprisingly similar, yet uniquely your own.

  3. This is beautiful Jess, and it relates so much to me. I write and blog about myself and my daughter’s anxiety and panic attacks. I started my blog about a month ago. I’ve been wanting to tell you that you are my inspiration. My daughter’s severe problem with panic attacks happened when she was 10. She’s in her early 20s now, and wants to make sure her identity is kept private. I want to keep everything, as you say, private-as-public. I had no idea how to do that. Do I change everyone’s names (yes, I did). But I wondered how to explain that. And is that okay? I found your blog and you answered all my questions. I’m very careful about privacy. This is my story, but it is my daughter’s as well. Tricky to navigate at times. And your thought about what your daughters will think when they read what you have written? I showed my daughter some posts before I allowed my blog to be public. She read them and cried. I was surprised at her reaction. She told me she was crying because she never knew about this, from my perspective. She never knew how much her mental illness affected me. She was very proud at what I wrote. To me, that was her blessing to officially open my blog to the public. I felt this was the perfect time, perfect post, to let you know how much you helped me. So thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  4. Between work and life and not wanting to rush through what I could tell were very meaningful posts, I haven’t read diary in a while. But I paused this weekend. Instead of picking up a book or magazine, I made diary my next reading assignment, going back to your beautiful eulogy for Noelle. I’m so glad I did. Your writing, and your dad’s, was worth every moment. Both of you write with such simple richness unencumbered with fancy or extra words, and it’s so so meaningful. It just seems to flow out of you like that. Thank you for enriching us as often as you do!

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