midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “father-daughter”

Facing the Music

As my daughter Rebecca and I were discussing her sociology class on adolescence, she tangentially announced, “You and mom did a good job raising me.”

Surprised by an out-of-the-blue compliment, I asked, “What makes you say that?”

Rebecca explained that she does not view herself as materialistic, implying instead that she values experiences and relationships above things. We provided for her needs and many wants, but we didn’t overindulge, and didn’t replace our caring, attention and adam-reb_foyeweddingpresence with materials, she was saying.

As a 21-year-old sociology major graduating from the University of Maryland in four days, she has learned about inequality, justice, race, poverty, privilege, human development and other similar topics, helping her become more insightful and introspective about her own life, and more astute about distinctions among individuals and communities.

I was happy to hear Rebecca praise our parenting, since her mom and I broke up when she was 9. My biggest fear about our divorce was that it would cause emotional and psychological problems for Rebecca and younger brother Daniel.

“So we did a lot of things right,” I said, fishing for more praise.

“Yeah, but not everything,” she said, adding the inevitable disclaimer.

“What didn’t we do so well?”

“There were things I haven’t talked to you about.”

We were headed to an Easter celebration, so there wasn’t time, and it wasn’t the right time, to get below the surface. But I kept the conversation in my memory, committed to return to it.

I did that last weekend, inviting Rebecca to have an open discussion with me as a young adult, reflecting on her experiences as a pre-teen and teenager, the positive and the negative, the gratifying and the disappointing, the supportive and the hurtful.

That conversation, I recognize, will require certain things of me, to be constructive rather than destructive or dismissive: I’ll want to approach it as a listener, not a talker, and with an open-minded, non-judgmental, non-defensive attitude. Because I know my temptation, like any parent told in retrospect they weren’t as magnificent as they believed, will be to explain or justify or rationalize or correct the record, which would only serve to shut down Rebecca, diminish openness, trust and honesty and invalidate her experiences and feelings. My current training in counseling should help me control such urges.

I would like to give Rebecca the chance to have an open forum with me without fear of reprisal or disengagement. I believe it’s important to transition into our adult relationship with everything in the open, past issues revealed and understood, nothing left unsaid, as the foundation for our future interactions and communications. It’s the key to an emotionally healthy, genuine father-daughter relationship.

I don’t know what she will say to me. I don’t know if I’ll be surprised. I don’t know what emotions it will trigger. But I want to hear it. I know I had good intentions throughout her childhood, and did my best as a father. But I also know I made mistakes. And I know the fact of divorce created situations and triggered emotions that were difficult, or perhaps impossible, to manage without having an impact on the kids.

Facing the music about my role and impact as a divorced (and remarried) father in my daughter’s life will increase my awareness and, I hope, strengthen my ability to relate to Rebecca. It’s worth whatever discomfort or ego deflation it may cause me.

Daddy-Daughter Day

adam-reb_foyeweddingWhat are the odds that a father and a daughter would graduate from different universities on the same day?

Infinitesimal. But that is what’s destined to take place for me and my daughter Rebecca on May 20, 2017, barring unforeseen circumstances.

We’re each about to start our final semesters. I’ll be graduating from the clinical mental health counseling master’s program at Loyola University-Maryland after a five-and-a-half-year marathon, while Rebecca will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland.

It will be a proud day for the Sachs family. Unfortunately, though, I’ll have to make a choice, because the graduation ceremonies conflict. The choice is really no choice at all. As much as I would like to participate in my graduation to savor my accomplishment and sacrifice – and it really has been that, involving a career change, job loss, precipitous drop in income, scrambling to patch together part-time, temporary and seasonal employment, large tuition bills, attending evening classes after work, securing and working at two internships that have tested me, and a long-term commitment to finish rather than quit when feeling overwhelmed – the obvious choice is to attend my daughter’s graduation.

It’s not that I’m selfless. I’m not. I think a lot about myself. I’m all about me, a lot of the time. I’m not a huge giver. I might not give you the shirt off my back. But May 20 will be Rebecca’s time. It will be enough for me to know what I accomplished and that I persevered through obstacles, as much as I would like to share that moment with grad school colleagues who have done the same.

It will be more important to me that Rebecca knows and remembers that I was there, and to celebrate her achievement. I have tried to do that throughout her 21 years. There’s a quote you might know, often attributed to director Woody Allen, that “90 percent of life is showing up.” But apparently what Allen really said was, “80 percent of success is showing up.” So if I multiply a .90 show-up rate by a .80 success rate, I have a 72 percent chance of success by showing up at Rebecca’s graduation. I’ll take those odds.

Showing up always been a high priority for me as a parent, and a college graduation is no time to slack off. That simple feat – being present — was made more challenging over the years since I separated from Rebecca’s mother when she was only 9, but it was never an excuse.

We had hoped our graduations would be on different days on the same weekend. How cool would it be to attend each other’s graduations on successive days? I would like Rebecca to see a palpable example that learning, growth, striving and change can happen throughout a lifetime, by observing me graduate. But it wasn’t to be.

So I will do what I know in my gut is right and what all good parents should do – no awards or kudos needed – and put my child first.

Going, Going, Gone!

A week ago I lugged my son Daniel’s mini-refrigerator and cartful of computer equipment to a cramped dorm room at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and officially became an empty nester. My daughter Rebecca left home for good later the same weekend to move into her new apartment at the University of Maryland.DanAdam2_PotomacHall

Since I’ve been gone all summer scraping together income to fuel my midlife career transition odyssey – except for one-day-per-month visits back home – teaching tennis at the Sea Colony Tennis resort in Bethany Beach, DE, the kids’ flight hasn’t fully registered with me yet. But when I return home for good on Labor Day night, I’ll be faced with the fact that my role as a parent has changed.

My kids have become so much more independent in the last year. Rebecca spent a semester in France and traveled throughout Europe. Daniel became more social, broadened his circle of friends, with whom he traveled to Ocean City, MD for Senior Week and California over the summer, connected with a steady girlfriend, got his first job at which he is advancing and earned college scholarship funds.

They’re becoming young adults, and our relationships will change. I am curious what those relationships will be like.

Since they are attending colleges nearby, they’ll be around on occasion, but now their college residences are their primary addresses. I am going to miss having one or both kids around the house on a regular basis.

I’m thinking the transition may be easier for me than for parents in an intact family. My kids lived with me only half the time for about half of their childhoods, since they were 9 and 7, because of my divorce. I always felt sad when I brought the kids back to their mom’s on Sunday evenings after a week with me, knowing I was going back to an emptier house and that I would likely only see them one time over the next week for dinner. The necessity to adjust to the back and forth, every other week arrangement I hope will help me adapt to this new transitional scenario.

Still, there’s nothing like your kids branching out on their own and establishing their independent lives to let you know you are advancing to new and later stages of life. I taught many kids tennis this summer and met their parents. I couldn’t help thinking those parents were me a decade ago, enjoying family vacations at the beach and doing fun kid things like walking the boardwalk at night and sliding the water park during the day. When I told tennis parent clients that I had kids also, though older at 20 and 18 and in college, I had a hard time believing it myself.

Rebecca has talked about becoming a teacher recently and of possibly following her boyfriend, a chemical engineering major, to some yet to be determined destination after college. Daniel will be pursuing studies in the computer science field at a university known for its strength in that area. They both have promising futures. I’m proud of how they have developed and the people they are. I hope I have had a positive influence on them and will remember some of dad’s “pearls of wisdom” that they probably didn’t want to hear when I offered. I implored both kids to take Spanish; they each took French. I think Daniel already may be happy that I highly recommended dorm life to him when he was considering other college living arrangements.

I look forward to developing and nurturing close and warm adult relationships with both kids. I hope it happens. It will be a two-way street from here on out. Both kids will have to desire that too and give our relationship love and care to help it grow as we all mature.

The kids are gone and one long and crucial part of my parenting journey is over. It’s been a challenge, a great learning experience, an honor and a joy, but also tinged with some tumult, sorrow and readjustment resulting from the family breakup and my second marriage. I am eager to see what the next phase will bring and know I will need to work at staying connected.

The kids are gone. In the coming weeks, I’ll learn how prepared I am to accept it.

The Marathoner: Coming a Long Way

I’m going to try to tear my 19-year-old daughter Rebecca away from college and sorority life for a night to see McFarland USA, the movie about a white coach at a predominantly Latino California high school who struggles to connect with students until he discovers a group of great runners, and builds a championship cross-country team with a long-enduring legacy from nothing. I figure it will have some shared meaning for us, with the importance that cross country has played in Rebecca’s life and my small role – at least I like to believe – in making it happen.

Rebecca was never a star athlete. She stuck with soccer longer than I thought she would, long enough to make an “A” team in eighth grade. But she never gelled with her new teammates, and after one fall season, she was done. In a soccer-mad county with intense competition, high school soccer was realistic only for the most talented and dedicated.

That summer before ninth grade I talked to Rebecca about considering running cross country in high school. I had done a couple of slow 5K road races with her before. Her mother is a big-time runner – not fast, but extremely disciplined and relentless – who has a number of marathons to her credit, so Rebecca always had that role model.

I played tennis through high school. After I saw my younger brother join the cross country team and enjoy the camaraderie and inspiration from the group effort and make long-lasting friends, I wished I had done the same. Remembering my brother’s rewarding experience, I thought Rebecca could benefit the same way.

But my periodic reminders that summer before ninth grade to Rebecca about the valuable experiences of cross country and if she was considering it at all, the need to train at least a minimal amount, seemed to be more annoying to her than helpful. Maybe that’s the inevitable reaction of a 13-year-old daughter to the advice of a father who claims wisdom from experience. Rebecca would respond anxiously that I was stressing her out with all that talk about going out for cross country and training, so I tempered my fatherly advice with backing off.

When mid-August came, I had no idea whether Rebecca would go to cross country tryouts. She did. I feared she wouldn’t survive a week in the humid, 90-degree heat with what little training she had put in. She did. There was a time-trial within the first week. I believe Rebecca missed the designated cutoff time, but not by much. But the great thing about cross country is there were no cuts. Perseverance, commitment and determination were rewarded, and whoever stuck with it long enough inevitably improved, and in almost all cases, greatly. That’s what Rebecca did.

I remember doing a few organized runs with Rebecca early in her high school cross country career, including one on a high school cross country course, where she would break down with a debilitating pain part way through, usually a cramp in the side, or have trouble breathing. I tried to be caring, but I was also frustrated when it happened. She should have kicked me in the ass for that. Sometimes the pains would happen at meets I attended.

But as her career went on and her body developed and got stronger and adapted to the rigors of the sport, those incidents faded. She became a top-10 runner on her team, a leader in spirit activities, and ultimately a captain. She improved her times for the 5K (3.1-mile) course by about 8 to 10 minutes from freshman to senior year.  Perhaps most importantly, she made great friends on the team who constituted her social circle for four years – all of them excellent students and the type of kids a parent would want their own kid to hang out with. Also importantly, I believe cross country played a major role in increasing Rebecca’s self-esteem, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation and work ethic.

This is what I couldn’t have predicted more than five years ago when I felt I was on the verge of badgering my daughter to do something she didn’t want to do: She not only persisted at cross country, but she has become an accomplished distance runner in an amazingly short time, while carrying a full load as a full-time college student.

She has quickly built up over the past two years by running 10-mile events, half-marathons (13.1 miles), and metric marathons (16-plus miles). Then, in 2014, she announced she was going to run the Baltimore Marathon in October. I thought it might be a little too much to undertake as a college student, but she persisted, training with a group of adult marathoners all summer.

She finished the marathon in just over four hours, a month shy of her 19th birthday. How many 18-year-olds have a marathon to their name? I was proud to see her coming into the homestretch, heading toward the finish at the Baltimore football and baseball stadium complex, looking strong. She wasn’t trudging, either. I ran down the sidewalk for a ways to parallel her, and the pace was fast.

So hopefully we will share McFarland USA together, and reminisce about where Rebecca started and her running journey since then. It seems selfish to want to take a small bit of credit, but that’s my ego talking. Sometimes I like to know I did something right as a father, and whether Rebecca really needed a little push from me or not, I’d like to think I had a positive influence that has helped her enjoy and benefit from one of the most positive influences in her young life.Dad-RebTurkeyTrot

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