Birthday Message!

Dear L&L;

One of my clearest memories of your childhood days is asking if you’d done everything you wanted to do that year – on the evening before your birthday. It was a ritual, remember, but it was also my way of focusing our attention for a moment on your past, as well as on the year you’d begin the next morning. Google can’t find the person who said “time flies like an arrow,” except for Groucho Marx, who famously followed up with “…and fruit flies like a banana.” But time does fly, and pausing for a moment to reflect on its passage is a habit you’ve well begun, and one that I continue.

And so, you might ask, the night before you turn seventy, Dad, have you done everything you’ve wanted to do? And the question might be extended to all sixty-nine years, and not just the sixty-ninth. This is a harder question to face, especially as there’s no turning back – and no eraser, either, in this Internet-laden era.

On the grander scale, I was reflecting recently that I was sorry I’d never made it to Eagle Scout – I lost interest and enthusiasm while no more than Second Class. Successful men often have “eagle scout” on their resumes. Upon further reflection, however, I did recall several marks of success. I’ve (too) often told the story about calling my father from Choate and asking what colleges he’d recommend, and proudly telling him that according to the counselor I could go to “any college I wanted.” And of course in due time I stepped up to the challenges of “my” Marine Corps.

You also may (or may not) remember that I received a Distinguished Rank Award as a senior civil servant in 1997, an award given annually to only one percent of the 6,000 career Federal executives. And was first listed in Who’s Who in America in 1984. (And that my favorite title ever was “Night Vice President of the Student Bar Association at Georgetown. What better title than “Night Vice”?)

But on the personal, and more important scale, I am more proud than you know of my two kids. Both of you have graduate degrees, are happily married, and have full time jobs with health insurance! In today’s world, and today’s economy, these are no small feats (or feet, either!).

I have wonderful memories of the steps each of you took along the road to adulthood. One that comes to mind is listening to Luciano Pavarotti in La Boheme on the American Legion Bridge, coming back from Sidwell, and having you ask me to stop the CD and replay his singing “esperanza,” inche gelida manina. The perfect moment in the opera, the perfect moment in my memory.

And when you asked me what car you were going to get to drive, and I told you, oh so subtly, that it was the old pickup, and you asked for the (goddam) keys and came back in thirty minutes, all flushed, and proudly said that now you could drive “stick!” One giant step for Laura, and one giant step for fatherhood!

You have also heard me say that the goal of parenting is to raise children who are ready to go off into the world to make their way and not look back. This is perhaps the hardest job of a lifetime – because while you’d love to wrap your child in your arms, away from the hazards and disappointments, the insults and injuries of childhood, that’s not what’s needed. After some small consolation, you must set them on their feet and aim them back at the prize. It’s not what your heart tells you to do, but it’s what you must do.

So that’s what I did – and it seems to have worked! So as I look back as I turn seventy, I’ve done what I wanted to do – and what needed doing – and now my most important job is done. The world is in your hands. Enjoy.

Lots of love, Daddy

March 18th, 2010

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