Sunday, June 14, 2009

My masterpieces

Yesterday was The Boy's graduation party. I took the day off on Friday to relax and work on party preparation; so my son and I were home together for most of the day. In the early part of the afternoon, we had a conversation (OK, it's true - I did most of the talking) and I told The Boy this:

When I was growing up - a teenager like The Boy is now, and even earlier - I wanted to be rich and famous. I figured that I would be an actor, an author, a singer/songwriter - or at least a disc jockey (I assumed ascending to that low rung of the celebrity ladder would be the worst I could do!). I would make my way in the world with my creativity - and people would know my name.

But I also wanted marriage and a family. I didn't think of these desires for fame and starting a family as being at cross purposes - but, of course, they are. And as I matured, it became an easy decision to set aside my dreams of glory in order to give my best to the reality of my wife and children. I didn't view it as a sacrifice. Just a decision - that what was most important in my life was the people I loved, the people around me - not the opportunity to be loved anonymously by the thousands (or the millions) I would never know.

Out of that decision, of course, many more arose. Some out of practical necessity, others of opportunity, others of convenience or habit. How could I best provide for my family? What sort of work could I do that would suit my personal preferences while being lucrative enough, stable enough to plan for the future. Who would hire me? How could I best ensure a steady stream of income for myself and my family?

And in this process, I began to learn my lines as husband and father, I composed emails rather than songs, wrote project plans instead of story outlines, did my DJ-ing by creating mix tapes* rather spinning records during the afternoon drive-time shift. These were not sacrifices - I made decisions based on what was most important to me.

The reward for my decisions is greater, I believe, than any film I might have made, or book that I might have written, or album that I might have released.
My children are my masterpieces.
They are bright and beautiful and loving. They're not perfect - they're still works in progress - but they are good. And even God herself, when She created the world, didn't claim much more than that.**

When I compare myself at seventeen to my son, he seems quite young. Much younger than I was at that age. I think my children have been blessed to be able BE KIDS for longer than seems the norm these days. And I'm grateful for that. I told The Boy that he might not appreciate that fact now - but later in life, he may better understand and appreciate it.

I wanted my son (and my daughter) to know all that. The Boy's graduation from high school is like a sign post on The Highway; my children's lives have moved into a new construction zone. Most (if not all) of the basic work is complete. The road has been paved, the cement is nearly dry. There may be occasional lane closures from time to time for repair - but my work on the project is all but over.

Oh, I may be able to offer a suggestion on where to place the street lights - or establishing the speed limit...if I'm asked. But I'll try not to feel badly if I'm not consulted. I know there will be times when my input will not be desired - or needed. If I've done my work well, they won't need me much anyway - and they'll know when they do - and they won't be afraid to ask.

Anyway, that's what I shared with The Boy on Friday. Where the road goes from here is mostly up to him. I told my son that I didn't think he ought to do (or not do) things in his life to make his parents proud of him. Making a parent proud seems to me to be an undue burden to place on a child. I told him he should find out what makes him happy, what will allow him to be self-sufficient, how he can be a responsible member of the community in which he lives - and do those things.

That would be more than enough, I think, to make any parent proud. Don't you?

Take care.

* I think this is a term commonly used by people who create collections of songs by various artists for their own listening pleasure (Think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets or John Cusack in High Fidelity). But it's not a term I normally use. I just call them "collections".
** Genesis 1:31


TennLady said...

I think you grew up really early. Not the norm.

We in TN would appreciate a graduation picture of the boy!

Jim Styro said...

I didn't mean to do it - it just happened.

I promise to send a grad photo to TN -
just as soon as I get one.

Captain Dumbass said...

I think you did pretty good.

Jim Styro said...

Thanks, Cap'n.
I hope it didn't sound like I was taking too much credit for how they turned out. In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure I can take any credit beyond a few measly chromosomes - and I wasn't doing anything with those anyway.

Pamela said...

Good work, sir. And congrats to the boy.

Jim Styro said...

Thanks, Pamela. I will certainly pass along your congratulations.

historymike said...

A thoughtful and honest post about parenting, JimStyro. Even early on I recognized that you and M.A.W. were excellent parents, though it has been a few years since I have actually seen you in action.

I like to hollowly joke that our definition of "success" as parents can be distilled down to a few basic goals for each child: a) a high school diploma; b) no pregnancies before adulthood; and c) remaining out of jail while under our roof.

I used this line in part because we fostered children for 14 years, and the expectations are lower. Yet as I re-read this flippant comment, I understand also that beyond a few reasonable demands, we too have let our children be children. Our last two have been a bit less rushed in their transition to full independence, but if an apple needs a few more days on the tree before it is ready to be picked, then that is where it stays.

Congratulations to you, M.A.W., The Boy, and The Girl.

And I am glad that you and The Boy continued in father-son conversations. Some of the proudest moments I have are when out children still look to us for advice. They used to complain about limits we placed on their freedoms, but it is clear that the emphasis we placed on the importance of family made some sort of lasting impression.

Anonymous said...

Your kids are lucky that you've been so consciencious. They are your best work ever.

Nancy said...

I think the timing of this very sweet and thoughtful post is suspect. Father's Day is just a few days away. I think you're just trying to get better presents from your kids.

Jim Styro said...

Mikey: Any parenting compliment from you is high praise indeed, since I know a little about the time, energy and cash you have devoted to raising your children - both biological and foster. Don't give me too much credit on the whole father-son conversation thing. That could be the longest one I have with The Boy all year (he's not much of a talker these days).

Dedene: Thanks for the kind words.

Nancy: I would never put my hope in such a leaky vessel. Besides, just how shallow do you think I am? [Wait - don't answer that question!]

Jess said...

Goodness I am behind on your postings! Fantastic post! It is wonderful to hear how proud you are of your kids. My parents also tell me they are proud of me and my bros, but I have many, many friends whose parents NEVER tell them such. So to you, I say great job!!!!!!!

11 years after having a simular conversation with my Dad our conversations have changed from

"What are we having for dinner?"


"What am I supposed to do with this IRA Roth?!? I lost my ass this quarter!"

The one thing that hasn't changed is whenever I see my Dad he still slips me a $20 bill to "help" with things. Awwww, I love Dads!

Jim Styro said...

Jess: Thanks for the encouraging words as always.
Being a supportive parent goes a long way towards having happy kids, I think.
The Boy loves it when I slip him a $20 as well - but I demand services rendered.