Praying for perspective: A journey of a hundred years begins with a few missteps

By George Valadie

By the time you read this, another Father’s Day celebration will have come and gone. Believe it or not, I’m actually hoping for some socks.

I could hardly believe it after doing the math. This will make 42 Sundays I’ve gotten to celebrate as a dad. Didn’t have a clue what I was doing back then: she was so little; I was so young. We just considered survival — hers and ours — to be a noble goal.

How is it possible that I — and they — have gotten so old so soon?

I still feel too young for our oldest (Katy) to be that age. And yet our youngest (Sarah) reminds me often that my upcoming 66th birthday is closer to 70 than it is to 60. She’s still a joy.

Some 30-plus years ago when I began writing columns like this, Sarah was in elementary school just learning that nouns have case and verbs have tense. Back then she was shaping sentences; now she writes a blog.

If there’s a writer in the family, it’s Sarah. I may have written much more, but she writes much better.

I’d like to tell you she’s exactly where we thought she would be at this stage of her life, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sarah’s college route was circuitous at best — disastrous at worst. Some of that — not all — but some was our fault, too.

In spite of an anxiety we discovered, which led to a few academic disasters, we pushed and cajoled and encouraged her to stay with it because we thought that’s what parents were supposed to do.

She went along because she thought that’s what our daughters were supposed to do.

If I were to be soul-baringly honest, I’d probably have to admit that we wanted her to get her degree like all the other kids would be doing partly because we wanted our family to be thought of as just as normal as all the rest.

How’s that for insane parenting?

If you ask her, I think she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s piled up more than a few questionable decisions in her 33 years. In school and out. And the results have been predictable — all have been difficult, some have been deserved.

We all laugh — though sometimes it’s not so funny — that her tombstone will simply say, “But I meant to!”

She meant to do her homework and she meant to mail that payment. She meant to pick up that towel and she meant to renew her license.

One morning, she found herself in her car on the way to work when she looked in the rearview mirror and noticed the wet towel still wrapped around her head. I want to believe she meant to dry it.

All that being said, we’re really proud of the woman she has become.

Not for the mistakes, but for the growth.

She ultimately earned her degree while working full time; she’s already impressed the bosses at her new job, lost 90-plus pounds in the last year, recently celebrated a year of sobriety, and gotten herself out of a mountain of debt.

Katy, our oldest, encountered some of the same hurdles while being so very different. How does that happen? She crisscrossed several divergent pathways on her way through school — choosing some all at once. But her largest sin was of a different sort.

We discovered — or should I say she finally admitted — that she had buried herself in financial misery. First it was hers, somehow it became ours.

In another salute to parenting wizardry, we let her get away to university life without any solid understanding of money, credit, or financial responsibility.

Today, years later, she works at a bank and long ago earned the credentials to plan your financial life. And believe it or not, we’re letting her plan ours. She’s pretty good at it, too.

I have no doubt she’ll do well for us. We face our retirement future with not much; she faces it with a fear that we’ll spend it on her doorstep.

Meg, our middle child, just turned 39 last month. She lived her high school and college life on the outer edge. It’s not like she was a terrible kid, but she definitely knew how to take advantage of having dad as your principal.

She found a way to roam the halls and irritate her teachers. Once, we left her home during an out-of-town trip (yet one more tribute to our parenting genius), so she promptly threw a party that concluded with the police descending on our cul-de-sac.

Today, she finds herself with an office full of her own employees. And she’s learning to insist they tow the line. I love the irony, I know her former teachers would.

Please, please do not read this as any sort of ego-filled boasting about the wonderful Valadie children. It’s anything but. Ours is nothing more than a story of trying to figure things out along the way. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Yes, we’re proud of our kids — just as you are proud of yours. But this has nothing to do with accomplishments. It’s more about the journey, isn’t it? The one that all of our kids must travel.

I once worked for a great man who said, “You can never give up on your kids.” It’s not like it was a Shakespearean quote or anything, but we’ve never forgotten it.

They don’t all travel the path we would want, nor does it ever seem to happen in the timeframe we would hope, but God does indeed take care of children and fools.

Our family is proof of both.

Dear God — Thank you for the gift of parenthood. Please give us patience for the trip and keep us mindful of the wonder. Amen.

 

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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