The peril of precious memories

Of all the scenes that represent life’s precious moments, holding my son in my arms for the first time is a cherished favorite. When I gently lifted him from the crib he was cautious, his watchful eyes speaking to the disappointment of previous encounters - less than three months old he had been shuttled about from one foster home to another, and there I was, another strange smelling giant promising safe haven.

When the moment came - when he suspended his doubts and gave himself over to my love, he held my finger in his chubby fist and giggled as I nuzzled and kissed him - it was transcendental, a linking of hearts, the grace of surrender liberating our love from our fear. The feeling of that moment stayed with me through the cooing, gurgling, spit-bubble months that followed, his baby’s helplessness stirring my protective instincts, tenderizing me into a deliriously sappy, proud father.

When I watched my daughter being born I was witness to a miracle, my own breath suspended until her first gasp of air signaled the beginning of life. In the days that followed, when she was so tiny her head fit in the palm of my hand as I cradled her in my arms, I remained in a state of awe.

I watched her for hours on end, transfixed by every flutter of her eyelid, spellbound by a yawn, mesmerized by the twitch of her fingers and toes. I took on the night-feeding chore with pleasure, sitting in my favorite chair, a leather cushioned rocker that curved to my spine and pillowed baby and me as we submerged into the night. I was at peace, content in the moment.

Jump cut.

I am writing about writing about the vicissitudes of aging and my son and daughter are in their forties with families and lives of their own. The toddler days are distant memories, our heart-centered connection long since caught in the matrix of thrust and parry that typifies the competition for relevance as the influence of generations descend and ascend.

In the transformation from parental to adult relationship, boundaries built of difficult negotiations have been put in place. They recognize that the roles of our family play have changed, the timbre of the dialogue altered, each of us speaking in their own voice. My script has been revised often but is finalized for the moment. “Son, Daughter, you’re not children any longer and I too, have changed dramatically; I will always be your father, but now you are fully formed adults, responsible for how you decide to live your lives.”

It took me far too long to grasp the importance of setting boundaries. I had thought of them a wall or fence that separated me from them. Finally I have learned that the contrary is true, being direct about the parameters of our relationships makes it clear where we stand and defines what we want and what we are willing to give each to the other. Without boundaries I’m back in the pipe dream about a past that never was, dependent on the good babies of my memory for my happiness, or miserable because the naughty babies had learned how to say “no.”

The adjustment I had to make, and it was difficult, was to get clear that the pastel colored scrim over of those romanticized memories of the past were in sharp contrast with the harsh, often stormy realities of the present. The lesson is not for me alone. My children have to understand it no longer is my responsibility to provide helpless and defenseless babies a nurturing environment so they can giggle and coo, serene and safe in father’s arms. That is not my job anymore!

I’ve written about this subject before, citing the parents’ role to allow their children to be launched from the proverbial nest to fly on their own. In retrospect, I probably overlooked the responsibility of the fledglings to take responsibility for learning how to fly, creating their own happiness as they grew into adulthood.

Parents and children both have to recognize and set appropriate boundaries regarding how much power and how much responsibility each owns in relationship with the other.

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