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Unprepared for parenting and teaching BBQ

August 16, 2014
     The Des Moines Regsiter

In the light of a golden summer morning we sent him out into the world.

There must have been other sounds: buses, cars, people talking, birds chirping, doors closing. I only remember the whisper of his fading footsteps. And, I know that is likely little more than a figment of a father grappling to stop time anyway.

There was an indescribable joy witnessing the boy I held not so long ago walk away a man. But, the ache in my heart grew as he turned the corner and headed into his future.

The air was dense and the ground wobbled beneath me as I thought of the many things I never taught him. I never showed him how to check the oil in a car. We never went snow skiing. Does he know how to light a BBQ grill?

I had 18 years to do these simple things and I now fear I wasted too much of them.

We start the slow trudge back to our hotel with our two other children. As we head up the tree-shaded hill we pass a couple also on their way from the great parting. Empty-nesters walking. We decide to get something to eat. Mostly, we wonder what Connor is doing.

It occurs to me if every parent was as wholly 

and entirely unprepared for the job as I had been, the advancement of humankind would have ceased long ago.

Parents bungle along, feeling our way, making mistakes, finding success, being scared and experiencing joy greater than we ever thought possible. This learn-as-you-go activity of parenting, more than any other human endeavor, teaches us we mortals are capable of playing a role in creating something far greater than we will ever be, our children.

A few of the sounds of the world begin to register in my foggy mind and I convince myself it is a safe bet my son's inability to check a car's oil has probably not caused him a significant problem in the 30 minutes since we dropped him off.

Later, as the sun sinks in the sky over the Annapolis marina, I say a silent prayer of thanks for family, for the smell of newborn babies, for holding the hand of a child giggling on new green grass as sparkling wet diamonds spew from the lawn sprinkler, for lying together as fear brought by a dark night's thunder retreats, for the gift of quiet Sunday afternoons that give children and parents strength to face what awaits outside the front door on Monday morning, for long winter nights anticipating a snow day and longer summer days playing in cool waters, for learning that together is the best way to solve the problems of one.

The twinge that started a few months ago as high school graduation day neared and turned into an ache as Connor walked into Alumni Hall this morning will never fade. I must learn to live with it — worry is part and parcel of a parent's love.

Our family is making the transition many others will in the days and weeks to come. Some children will set off to college and others will head toward a different point on the horizon, captains of their own destinies. We parents must accept we no longer pilot the ship. We are the supporting crew who remain in harbor.

The breeze and the metallic tinkling noise of the riggings of the rocking sailboats in the marina are all I hear. I slip my hand into my wife's as we head toward what's next. Despite the trivial things we haven't yet shared, I know Connor is prepared and so must I be.

I resolve to teach him how to BBQ the first time he comes home.