I’d like to take this opportunity to mark a special occasion in my life: Wednesday, September 1, 2016, my son, the younger of my two kids, began college. Thus I have concluded the most massive undertaking of my life: raising my kids. I know my role as a parent does not stop with college; nonetheless, I feel I have accomplished the most important task: To ensure my children grow into adulthood.
My own father died at the age of 49. I was several years out of college by then, but my younger brother had turned 18 only a few months prior. My father had always worried he’d die before my brother turn 18, so it must have been a relief for him that he’d lived long enough to see that happen.
So in my mind, it was always important that my kids would grow into adults before I die. I remember a tragic event in the 1980s, way before I had kids, in which a 6 year-old pilot (presumably a pilot-in-training) died while flying an airplane with her father on board. The kid’s stoic mother said few things publicly, but of the things she did say on TV, she said the child had died doing what she loved.
I remember feeling furious with that fool of a woman (and apparently many other people did too): What did this 6 year-old know about what would make her happy? Did she know about the excitement of starting college? Did she know the thrill of falling in love? Did she know the joy of having children of her own?
I became convinced that one of the most important goals in raising children was to ensure their safety and survival. Everything else comes after. When my kids were young, parenting books were the new rage. The hottest topic was how to raise happy children. Many preached the gospel of allowing a child maximum freedom to explore and experiment; Dr. Spock was considered too severe a disciplinarian. So what if kids got hurt while exploring? They learn from experience. So the advice went. Of course no one went so far as to say “let your child take risks with his/her life”, but taking risk was considered a virtue.
Needless to say, that child-rearing philosophy didn’t sit well with me. I remember thinking: These people who were dispensing such foolish advice must have never experienced loss – or even adversity – in their lives; they were like the mother of the 6 year-old pilot, believing gratification was the ultimate reward.
Obviously there is more to life than just the need for survival, and justifiably so: When I was a kid (in China), few people lived past 70. In the Western world today, the long lifespan is taken for granted, and so there is plenty of time for other pursuits in life than survival.
Still, for me, 28 years after my father’s passing, it is still an incredible milestone to see my youngest child turn 18, go to college – and to be alive and well myself.
It has not been an easy 20-some years. So now one chapter of my life has come to a close. Whatever is left of my mental acuity will be all mine. Yes, I did promise to take care of my cat and dog and keep them entertained. Other than that – Hello World! and I mean it!