I think of myself as being sentimental, without being a sentimentalist. If that sounds a bit like double-talk, perhaps it is. I don’t want to be one of those sappy, teary-eyed parents who commemorate every single milestone in a kid’s life as if it were some gigantic cosmic moment worthy of a request to make time stand still. At the same time, there are certain moments that I think are worthy of reflection, celebration and commemoration. What those exact moments might be are perfectly open to debate.
I had a cathartic experience seventeen years ago in Washington, D.C. I was there taking a summer symposium as I was completing work on my doctorate with Nova University. Part of my doctoral studies demanded of me a grueling week-long session of seminars and lectures from educators coming from institutions that ran the gamut from Harvard to Cornell to USC and more. My wife, a “retired” history teacher who loves, (I mean LOVES) Washington, DC, accompanied me with our at-the-time 15-month-old, and then only child. If I was busy, she was a whirlwind. Generally she was up before I was - heading off to a museum, tour or site-seeing expedition and would often come in at night after I had been released for the day. This was pre-cell phone days, so I had no way of keeping up with her, but she was having a blast.
One afternoon, the administrators of the program had mercy on us and gave us the rest of the day off. Julie and I decided to take a cruise up the Potomac River to Mount Vernon to see George Washington’s estate. It was a beautiful day for a long, leisurely cruise and the boat wasn’t particularly crowded. Sitting in the air-conditioning, a young teen-aged boy came by our table and took a particular interest in Nathan, who was just an engaging toddler. There weren’t any other teens on board and so the boy soon started talking up a streak with us.
During the course of the conversation, I discovered that the boy had just turned thirteen. He was Jewish. He was on a trip with his dad who was a big-time lawyer from Los Angeles. This trip was a gift (turns out a bar mitzvah gift) from his dad upon turning thirteen. He could chose to go anywhere in the country he wanted to go with his dad. Oddly, we actually bumped into this kid and his dad twice more during our trip to Washington…something that had almost insurmountable odds of occurring. Each time, he would come over and “update” us on his trip and his dad would come over as well and we’d engage in some small talk. I could tell they were having an awesome time.
I vowed that I would do the same with Nathan and any other kids we were to have.
It didn’t take long for the years to roll by and Nathan turned thirteen. I presented him with a “gift certificate” explaining the trip and giving him “options” and “suggestions.” At first, he seemed a little non-plussed and I felt disappointed. But as he began debating where he’d like to go, what all we would do, things we could see, he became more excited and so did I. He finally chose California.
So I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and polished up my credit card and off we took. It started off with a bang when we landed in San Diego and got upgraded to a red Camaro convertible for free! We tore off our shirts and went “cruising” like a couple of rubes – which we were. (Actually, it worked out quite well for me, I was able to take Nate on the trip of a lifetime and have my own mid-life crisis adventure at the same time.) We traveled the state from Tijuana to San Diego to LA to Yosemite to San Francisco in eight days. It was a blast. We laughed. We fought. We hiked. We goofed off. We talked. We debated. We just had a great father and son time.
I’m still paying off the credit card bill, I do believe. Since then, Julie has taken Megan (“coincidentally” their trip was to Washington, DC) and Katie (Cruise around the Caribbean) while I had an incredible trip to the Grand Canyon and Southern California a year and a half ago as we finished the ritual celebration of all four of our kids. As I look back upon it, I must say that this “rite of passage” trip we enjoyed may well be one of the most important times we ever had together. The benefits have paid off for years and years as we’ve relived and re-discussed those care-free days together.
I’ve seen other “rites of passage” ideas since then. I know of one guy who made a scrapbook of letters and counsel for his son. Another guy I read about had different friends of his meet his son for a long hike during which they took turns passing on advice to him as they walked together. Yet another idea was a “tribute” dinner where everyone offered “toasts of counsel” to the guest of honor. I still like the idea I got from that little kid on the boat and his dad the best. The boy is now in his late thirties and I have no idea whatever became of him. But a brief interaction with this boy and his dad nearly two decades ago sure did a lot to enrich my relationship with my own children.
Having a rite of passage event or two for any child may be something worthy of consideration. It’s a great time to talk about values, principles, goals and future plans. It’s also a great time to talk about nothing, just hang out, make a few memories, and pose for a handful of pictures – all of which may bond your relationship for some future moments of stress or trial.
Now two of my kids are out of the nest. One of them is married to an awesome guy and they will present us with our first grandchild in a few weeks. My remaining two are in their final years of living under our roof. A different phase of life for us is just around the country. At this point, I have more to look back upon than to which I am looking forward in terms of being a parent. But in my mind, memory and heart, I cherish those days we spent together celebrating the passages of adolescence and young adulthood.
I hope you’ll consider a few planned special trips, days and celebrations as your children grow up and make a plan to transfer spiritual values, family heritage and privileges of maturity as they get closer to the days when they too will be parents traversing the pains and pleasures of rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.