By Steven Crandell
Something to chew on.
If you know where you’re going, you’ve probably already been there. The journey becomes a search for familiar landmarks, rather than the discovery of new ones.
When I was a boy, my family used to play a birthday game. They called it “Destination Unknown.”
The birthday boy or girl would be “kidnapped ” -blind-folded and bundled into the car, driven all over town
and then dropped off at a surprise location for a celebration.
Destination Unknown. Something fits me in that phrase. It’s the not knowing that makes life exciting.
Disappointment waits for me as well as fulfilment, but I’m never quite sure how it will all unfold.
Each day — along with the ordinary and the downright dull — comes something I could never have anticipated. It is my friction and my freedom.
Fathering is a prime example.
I’m a separated father. I try to provide a stable environment. I want my two boys to feel safe and free and comfortable. Part of that means regular times for baths and bedtime. But in spite of such order, surprise springs up like wildflowers.
I ask my eight-year-old if he’d like to do something — play in the park or have a friend over. Instead, he says he’d just like to hang around home and relax. Relax?! I’m surprised, but I seize the moment, and minutes later, we’ve pulled mattresses out on to the deck, and as the kettle boils, we lounge in the sun.
Or.. . I go out Of town for a :week, and when I return, my five year old gives me a drawing which he calls a maze. I ask where the beginning is, and he says, “No Dad, it’s a word maze. You find words.” I look closer and find my name written at least half-a-dozen times in amongst the squiggly lines.
“Oh, I see my name.”
“That’s not all,” he says. ” Look closer.”
I look again. And there, entwined by the snaking lines of the maze, I read:
“I LOVE YOU”
My eyes get teary. My heart feels warm. And I give him a hug. The moment is rich and sweet and nourishing.
But the surprises aren’t always so sweet.
Sometimes, I’ll be driving in the car and singing with all my heart some song of love lost — squeezing out every ounce of emotion from the melody when a small voice comes from the back seat.
“Excuse me, Dad,” says my youngest.
“Yes,” I murmur, interrupting the song but not the feeling.
“Stop singing, please.”
I’m staggered that he’s not rapt with my rendition.
“Why should I stop,” I ask.
“I want it to be quiet,’ he says.
And I learn. My singing intrudes on his quiet.
Now his quiet is going to intrude on my singing.
Or my eldest. We’re in the park and he’s learning how to drop-kick the rugby ball. But it’s hard to do, and he’s very frustrated. I tell him it’s his first day learning, I tell him to be patient, I tell him that if he expects himself to be perfect he will surely be disappointed.
I tell him that mistakes are an important part of learning. But my words do no good. His frustration boils over into anger.
Teeth-grinding anger — which deepens with each less than acceptable kick of the ball. I stop enjoying our day at the park. His frustration becomes mine.
Later I ask him how the day was for him.
“Not good,” he says.
“Did what I said help?”
“What could I have done differently?” I ask.
His eyes open wide. “I don’t know!” he says in exasperation.
I remember I’m the dad. I’m the one to take the lead even when I’m unsure where I’m going.
“Would it help if I didn’t say anything while you’re drop-kicking?”
“Yes”, he says.
I explain that when he is impatient with himself, I don’t like it. I want him to be patient with himself.
“Should I go away and leave you be?” I ask.
“No,” he says emphatically.
“Be there….Just don’t say anything.”
The next day we’re out in the sun at the park. Drop-kicking again. Isaac has improved, but not enough for his own standards. He starts to fume.
I take a breath in. I let it out slowly. “Isaac, I see you’re getting angry. I’m just letting you know that I’m not going to say anything.”
“OK,” he says.
He kicks and fumes. He kicks and fumes. And then, occasionally, his foot connects sweetly with the ball, and he celebrates.
Later, as we walk back, I ask him how it was with me not saying anything, but being there.
“Better,” he says.
And in his concise honesty, I find the wisdom of not knowing .
He needed something from his father. And what I came up with on my own wasn’t working. So I asked him. I listened. I improvised. And it was better.
I like not knowing. That way I can’t help but learn.
Next: Long Distance Parenting