I saw this image yesterday that will live in my mind forever.
My twenty-year-old son, Ben, guitar bag over his left shoulder, amplifier hanging heavily from his right hand, brown hair flowing below his jacket collar, as he walks out the front door of our house into heavy rain.
It’s an image I’ve seen countless times in his life, as I close the door behind him, watching him head out on his way to a show, or a jam.
However, knowing this may be one of the last times I see this image, as he prepares to move to Nashville next month, this time, the image held frozen in my mind.
Or, at least, I held it there.
For the last month or so, as the reality of his leaving inches closer to reality, every small interaction with him – the things that for so long were routine and mundane, are like tiny treasures for myself and my wife to collect, hold on to, and guard with our lives.
Twenty years of raising him, protecting him, knowing where he was and who he was with, will officially be “none of our business,” just a few weeks from now.
I mean… we’ll ask. And I suspect he’ll be eager to share most of it. However, the context for his choices, his desires, his new routine, will all be his.
For a parent, it’s a lot to get your head around, but where you really feel it is in your chest.
A bizarre blast of pride, gratitude, fear, hesitation, and mostly, sadness for a season of life as a family that you never quite believe will come to an end.
We’ve talked with many close friends over recent years about their feelings at this same moment in their lives. And we’ve seen how, after the tears, it becomes the new normal.
Life moves on.
Afterall, the whole goal of raising kids is to help them become good adults. There’s no time clock on that job. Yet, it does run out. When it does, all you can hope is that you did your part well enough.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that the best advice your kids will get – and that truly sticks – often comes from other people.
Oh sure, you may have said it to them a hundred times, in different ways, but they finally hear it when they’re ready, and usually from a person they respect differently than they do you.
When this happens, the ego-driven part of you wants to shout, “Hey, that’s MY line!” Then the parental part puts a gentle hand on your shoulder and whispers, “Not anymore.”
In a moment like this, when your kid is flying the coop, you can’t help but feel obligated to say, or write, the perfect words to sum up the incredible pride you feel for them. The person they are, and are about to become. Also, to make a list of the things you need them to promise they’ll never forget. Especially when they feel the most alone.
So, I’m putting together a book. A single copy of a hardbound book that I hope he will sit with and read, again and again, whenever he needs a reminder that he is loved, and he is ready.
It’s a book of letters. Written to him, from other people he admires and respects. I plan to leave it on his Nashville nightstand, just before we say “goodbye.”
Reading through the letters as I assemble the book has been a monumental gift. They’re filled with humor, and wisdom, and warnings, and encouragement, in all kinds of unique voices, that together send a single message: “You are not alone.”
There are more than 60,000 titles on parenting in the Amazon bookstore. All of them helpful in their own ways, I’m sure. God knows there are times when we all need professional help with raising our kids. Usually right after we get that sinking feeling that our own flawed instincts may have just caused a permanent scar. (Sure, we can laugh now!)
But, if you think about it, the best help we can give to anyone who needs it isn’t the perfect words, or the surefire technique, or the easy way out… it’s simply being there. Like, really there for them.
So they know they are not alone.
If we have that, we have everything.
P.S. I want to thank you, here on the last day of the year, for helping me feel the opposite of alone by reading these Sunday Series blogs. I’ve received hundreds of wise, sincere, and often hilarious replies this year through email and it truly means the world to me. See you next year!