Our second son moved off to college last week leaving only our daughter, a high school senior, at home. One more year before we become empty-nesters. Being an emotional father who was always most comfortable when all three children were tucked firmly in their beds, I had a difficult time keeping my composure those last few days as the reality of another soon-to-be empty bedroom settled over me. Thank God, my wife is the strong one in our household. She helps me to keep it all in perspective.
Evan was never your typical teenager. He began piano lessons at the age of five, and developed an early love for classical music that continues today. The organ became his instrument of choice and he played his first Mass at the age of nine, following in the footsteps of my Aunt Agnes who was the organist at our local parish for 65 years. After her death, Uncle Joe gave her beautiful Conn organ to us. Our house was filled with music everyday. When Evan wasn't playing Bach on the organ, he would be playing Debussy or one of my other favorites on the century-old upright piano that was handed down through my wife's family. Now, they both sit silent in our downstairs family room.
The melancholy that surrounds me is soothed by the knowledge that Evan is pursuing his love of music. He will be home from time-to-time and I am sure the old piano and organ will come to life again. He seems to be excited about attending the university and appears to be adjusting well to his new surroundings. With Internet instant messaging and video technology, and the cellular telephone, kids are never really far away anymore. The world has become a much smaller place.
I have to keep reminding myself that these are not our children. They are God's children. We are just caretakers until they are ready to survive on their own. I don't want to demean the importance of that job, however. It is a tremendous responsibility, one that haunts me as my direct control over my son ends. Did I teach him everything a father needs to teach his son? Will he be ready to take responsibility, to do the right thing? When I am not there to lead, will he make the right choices?
The job of Parent had to be the most difficult in the world. It carries the most responsibility and yet, we begin it with no previous experience. Training is on-the-job, and by the time we gain the expertise, it's too late. Our career is over. Occasionally we see children who are raised from an early age by Grandparents. I wonder if they turn out to be more responsible adults since their guardians had prior experience. It might be an interesting study.
Would I do anything differently if I could raise my children all over again? Certainly, I would. Raising a child is somewhat like painting a picture. We make what we think are the proper brushstrokes to create our masterpiece, but we never really know how it will turn out until we step back to look. There are no assurances. I have seen parents seemingly do all the right things only to have kids grow up to be irresponsible jerks, and others who become wonderful adults despite being neglected while growing up. Perhaps the best we can do is act as we want our children to act. Lead by example, and hope they gain the necessary respect to follow in our footsteps.
I wish I had placed greater emphasis on getting priorities in order. Part of being a responsible adult is knowing what is important. I want my children to understand what a covenant is, and what it means in terms of commitment. I want them to love Our Lord, His Church, and all His creation. I want them to learn their faith and to share it with others. I want them to continue to grow through Grace and by personal study. I want them to be committed to family and to helping others. I want them to be civically and socially responsible. I want them to do the right thing, even in the face of opposition from our secular society.
Did I always do these things as an example for my children? No, not always. I am weak. But for the grace of God do I even have a wife and family. I have been very blessed. Are my children turning out the exactly the way I had hoped? Maybe not exactly, but I am mostly pleased and there are many chapters yet to be written. Despite what we tell them and how we lead, our children need to learn some things for themselves. At times their mistakes can be painful, but we cannot keep the reins on forever. We have to let go.