Last night I was watching a Yankees game going into extra innings when I felt a hug from behind and Aly giving me a kiss on the cheek before she bounded upstairs to bed down for the night.
We had just gone to Kami's ISM Senior Banquet which was full of tears and laughter and memories. Probably the most emotional part of the evening was when parents where able to come forward and share something about their Senior.
Some shared funnies memories, others wrote out what they wanted to say and read it aloud, some didn't know where to start and when to stop, still others struggled to gather their thoughts in front of people and made it short and sweet. All of the things that each parent said were as powerful as they were different. It's like you could get a peek at the kind of relationship each dad or mom had with their Senior in just that little exchange.
All of our daughters were able to be there for the evening, so they shed their fair share of tears as they understood the gravity of the moment. They were very conscious that each student was making a huge step into the future and a big step out of the past. You can't move to the former until you let go of the latter. That tearing is felt...your heart literally feels torn between joy and pain at the selfsame thought of graduation. I was sitting next to Aly and she was an emotional mess the better part of the night. She cried when Jon spoke. She cried when we sang, "Never Once", led by Ryder and Jess. She cried listening to parents share their hearts about their student. She is very sentimental and I love it.
At one point she noticed something that caused her to lean toward me to whisper into my ear. "Dad, I wish more of the dads would share and not just the moms." I told her that it's harder a lot of times for the fathers to talk in those emotional situations for a variety of reasons, but probably mostly cause they don't want to cry in front of people. It's not that most of them don't feel anything or have anything to say, it's just uncomfortable for a good many of them to speak in public about such intimate things. (At least this is what I'm making up.) She nodded and proceeded to continue weeping.
As the night continued to go on, I noticed the observation she was making more and more. In several cases it was just the mom who had come to the banquet because they had raised their child on their own. In other cases the couple was divorced and the mom would speak for both parties about their pride for their child's accomplishment. I would say 2 out of 4 times both the father and mother would come up with their Senior and the mother would grab the mic and ball like a baby while sharing for the both of them their deep heart for their boy or girl reminiscing about his or her childhood and sharing their collective support for them. Occasionally a dad would speak and when he did, it was palpable. The whole atmosphere would change. I loved hearing the father's open their mouths and hearts to their child...for some, you could tell it was a rare thing to hear their father's voice speak aloud their affections.
In one case, the dad was standing off to the side and the mom just handed him the mic and said, "Do you have anything you'd like to say?" He hesitated to grab the mic, but I think felt more awkward if he didn't. He started by saying, "I don't really have anything to say. I'm a man of few words because my house is filled with women." People laughed as he gathered himself and his thoughts. What he shared wasn't profound because it was packed with hearty and weighty words, but you could tell with every word that came out of his mouth that his daughter listening intently. It was evident that he wasn't comfortable sharing his feelings, but even his feeble attempt had a power to it that brought the house down. I remember at the end of him sharing his heart he said, "I'm very proud of you and I love you." He said it almost bashfully, not able to look in his daughter's eyes. But this is where she melted and her eyes welled with tears. It was powerful.
I was especially moved by hearing the mothers voice their visions for their children, their sons and daughters. Like I said, many of these moms stood alone having to be be the singular voice for both parents. Their courage was displayed and you could see the valiant hearts that had carried them the better part of the last 18 years. They were the all in all. The children soaked in the words silently knowing the sacred moment they inhabited. Some of them hadn't heard any of these words before and some may never have an opportunity to ever hear them again. So much was at stake for each family. So much was at stake for each child.
Heidi and I were blessed--as many parents were--to each have an opportunity to speak into our dear Kamryn's heart. Heidi shared her unique mother's heart for her and I shared my unique father's heart. I will never forget this opportunity to declare our blessing over our firstborn in the presence of many witnesses. It's bittersweet. So much of our lives have been spent pouring ourselves in her life and it's not an easy thing to let her go, but it is also very exciting to see where she will go when we release her.
So last night when Aly leaned in from behind me and gave me a hug and kiss and said, I'm glad you're a dad like you are, I hugged her a little longer. She didn't have to say that and most of the time doesn't. But something about the night tugged her heart so strongly that she wanted to let me know that. I don't always know what gives them the bravery to share little affirmations like this, but they are gusts of wind that fill the sails of any parent. So much of the time you give without even a remote expectation that it's noticed or that there will be a return of thanks for your investment. But occasionally, God will let a little love leak out in the form of a phrase that will remind you that they are watching and feeling and connecting the dots.
If anyone is reading this and you're a dad, this isn't an inditement on fathers who don't share at their kid's Senior Banquets. I'm sure there are a host of reasons and I have no right to judge. But I do want you to know that if you can muster the courage to overcome any of those reasons that seem justified in the moment to stay silent, and if you can grab the mic and say something, really anything to your children in those moments of truth, it doesn't have to be perfect or profound for it to be deeply personal. I don't think I can overstate how desperate many of them to hear our hearts.
So thank you to the dads who spoke up even if it was uncomfortable.
Thank you to the dads who came and stood there in solidarity to support their child they love, even if they couldn't speak.
Thank you to the moms who strung together words with tears to give expression to emotions.
Thank you to the moms who stood alone when there was no dad in the picture...you're my heroes.
And than you to the dads and moms that both spoke with freedom and pride of their Senior.
I hope we all will keep talking to our kids. That we won't wait for the next formal event to squeeze our words out of us. That we will freely share whenever our hearts tell us to do so. There are too few formal events for the need most of our children have to hear from our deep souls. So we must fight for words even when we struggle to know what to say and how to say it. The fate of our children's futures often hang in the balance. Will we stay silent, or will we speak?
I know the battle that wars within to stay passive and silent...I pray that I will fight it until the very end. In part, this is why I write this blog in hopes of taking a stab at expressing my heart, as feeble and incomplete as my words my be. I have to at least try.