The Reality of a Parent’s Limitations


And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,

not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran (1923)

November 2021 – Our children are the focus of many dreams. My second-born son, Matthew, was in a high school play this evening. A musical. And he was great. As a senior, who spent the past year and a half grounded from the activities he loved most, this was his great reemergence to the stage.

He had always been in plays, always a singer, and then, when COVID hit, everything was just shut down for almost two years. As I watched the show, the school had some kind of kabuki theatre of its own going on. Though we can go into any movie theatre unmasked and sit next to total strangers, here they covered every other seat in tape and required face masks.

In the end, I was glad they did because as my son did a great performance belting out “Seize the Day” from the Disney Broadway show Newsies, this particular father found himself in tears.

Some of the tears were joyful, because he got the chance in his senior year to be great and do what he loves. Mostly, though, this kind of overwhelming feeling hit me that I wanted to apologize… That I was so sorry, as a father, that I hadn’t been able to stop COVID from affecting his life.

It would be a silly thing to say, of course. But I wanted to say something… When he came out after the show there was a little reception of his friends, and I might have said something then, but all I got to say was that he was great and I was so proud of him. Then he was off to a big party, to hang with his friends, pursue some girls, and my thoughts were just for my wife and me. And that is how it should be.

Our losses due to COVID are real but pale in comparison, of course, to many others. I think of the parents sending their sons off to man a Higgins boats on the coast of Normandy in World War II or to Flanders Fields in World War I, where their children suffered not ennui of COVID, but barrages of bullets.

Understanding that others have had it worse somehow doesn’t make parents’ hearts hurt less for the losses of their own children.

High school is a special time. You can be quarterback of the football team, be the very best football player anyone in the region knows – and yet not be even a contender to play in the NFL. You can be president of your class, and you won’t ever be a contender for President of the US.

Like both of my sons, I was also an actor and singer in high school. I even had the male lead in my senior musical, but that was the last play I was ever in. If you miss that moment, you may never feel that way again.

Matthew just applied to college, and I don’t envy the schools. His first choice won’t even look at standardized test scores, thinking that would be unfair as some young people couldn’t take the tests due to COVID. His extracurriculars mostly were shut down, and grades – well, how can schools really discern who was honest and who was cheating when everyone was taking tests over Zoom?

There is a sense in which Matthew knows the loss. He knows he did plays and then had to stop. He knows he sang in chorus; then singing was banned at his school. He was on the weight-lifting team; then that just stopped.

Yet there is also a sense in which one’s life is always just what it is, always of the time one lives. Matthew pivoted. He launched a podcast about Halloween Horror Nights — HHN Talk with Speculation Matt — and, in a certain world, became famous. In a time of darkness, he created light and connected with people around the world who shared his love for the event at the Universal theme parks.

As parents, we may have some influence, but by the time our children are high school seniors, our influence is constrained. As a parent, you want to have impact, but in the end, perhaps the thought one is left with is best expressed in the Kahlil Gibran poem: “For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”              pb