It always starts the same. You know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it by. Somehow, though, you don’t quite begin as you should. Or you begin with voracity, flaring up bright and burning hot, but quickly fading. Yet somehow it’s inevitable, that as the deadline approaches you find the fuel you need to burn brighter and hotter than ever before, like you just drank some elixir of adrenaline and steroids and the normally solemn hours between midnight and dawn become your rallying cry, and the hands of the clock carry you on their shoulders across the finish line. It’s exhilarating. And exhausting.
Over lunch with a friend, we chatted about life and work and fatherhood. His kids are all older than mine and I asked what it’s like to have kids in their teens? His analogy was profound. His background in the graphics art field for magazines must have been on his mind. I didn’t immediately connect the dots with his sentence until he explained that having kids who are older made him better. Enhanced his performance. Made him more purposeful.
“It’s like you’re getting close to your deadline.”
My own dad backed off during my teen years. And what I mistook as him being uncaring or disinterested I later learned was him giving us boys what he thought was best. Doesn’t every parent struggle to do what they think is best and then are forced to live with the consequences. His logic made sense after he explained it. I was a young man, and he wanted me to know that he trusted me. So he gave me my freedom. A very hard thing for a parent to do.
But Chris sat across from me that afternoon explaining how the deadline loomed and he wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities he could. He admitted that his sense of regret was profound. Although his regrets weren’t even over what I thought they would be for. They weren’t over what he wished he had done ten years ago when they were tiny, young and pliable but over the missed opportunities he saw now, every day.
He also confessed that it’s not really a hard deadline, like when they turn eighteen. In fact, he pointed out that I was up against some deadlines myself even at my kids young ages. Because my relationship with them would certainly change as they got older. I knew this already, of course, but somehow it clicked. And then all at once it set in. The enormous task of being a father overwhelmed me, because the whole goal is to provide a foundation for your kids to eventually grow in and make their own, which will guide them through the rest of life. At this point in my life though so much of what I thought was strong and sure feels shaky and weak.
How could I be facing such an important deadline and yet not have enough time to work on my own foundation?
I needed more time. I need time to work through what internally I’m battling with about life. I need to be able to get away and think, to focus and reason and conclude. To rebuild some of what has broken over the years. But time marches on and I’m not given that chance. Instead, my role as father becomes more challenging because I have to build their foundation from scratch while simultaneously repairing and mending my own. The more I sat in that afternoon breeze, the keener my sense of regret became, though there was little I could do to change any of that at the moment. I am who I am. And some things just take time.