All your life you’ve put up with my advice. Eat your peas. Don’t stand in your highchair. Wait 30 minutes after lunch before swimming. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t trust boys. Apply early to college. Don’t trust boys. (Am I repeating myself?)
I stand by all of it, but now I write you not just as a father—but as a grandfather.
I’m so proud of you, honey. You found a good man and married him, and have just finalized the adoption of a beautiful 2-year-old son. I love Gabriel with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. (Remember when that was your favorite phrase? I do.)
What We're Reading This WeekGet recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.
You don’t need my lessons anymore. You could argue that you never needed it. Actually, you did argue that you didn’t need it, but I couldn’t help myself. Your sister Gabrielle and brother Tyler were equally unimpressed. (By the way, do you think they know how much I love them? How proud I am of them?)
You still don’t need my help. I still can’t help myself.
So I start with the advice your “Bompa” gave me when I was exactly your age. We were sitting in an Arkansas bar shortly after his 25th wedding anniversary when I asked my dad how he kept his marriage with Mom so fresh and strong. “As much as I loved you guys,” your grandfather replied, “I never forgot that you would grow up and be gone, and I’d always be with your mom.”
Be a spouse first, a parent second. Great advice. Gabriel will live with you for 18 to 25 years and, hopefully, you will be married twice as long to Tom. Your commitment to each other can be a model for Gabriel when he grows up and finds a partner.
(Remind me to tell Tom about the other piece of advice Dad gave me that night in the bar: He said of my mom, “Even when she’s wrong, she’s right.”)
Now let’s talk about your expectations for Gabriel. You edited Love That Boy, so you might recall the questions that developmental psychologist Cynthia Edwards asks of new parents. Why did you want to be a mom or dad? Did you want to love somebody else, or did you want somebody else to love you? Did you want to create a new life, or improve yours? Did you want to contribute to a new generation, or did you want to help shape one?
I’m the first to admit that I became your father for a combination of selfless and selfish reasons. Be honest, honey: Why did you become a mother?
If you’re like me, there is at least a part of you dragging the baggage of childhood into parenthood. You want to raise Gabriel in your image, because it’s easier to connect with a “mini-me” than to a stranger, and you’re already setting high expectations, because this is a scary world and you love him.
Don’t be like me.
Don’t worry about whether he is a “popular kid.” Help him avoid the dangers of social climbing and learn how to forge friendships that are sincere and loyal.
Don’t pretend he is a genius and push him too hard in school. Gabriel may not be gifted—most children are not. But your son is a gift.
Don’t try to make him a superstar, most valuable of something. Help him find his passions and to pursue them without fear of failure. Recognize the difference between dancing with him in the living room and forcing him to take dancing lessons.
What you ultimately what for Gabriel is happiness, right? So remember this quote: “True happiness, the kind of happiness we ought to wish for our children and for ourselves is almost always the result of doing hard but good things over and over.” Happiness is not pleasure. It’s goodness.
There is nothing wrong with the pleasure, but it’s fleeting. Raising kids, working through marriage troubles, and volunteering at a soup kitchen may be less than pleasurable, but these pursuits provide fulfillment—a sense that you’re the best person you can be. Researchers calls this eudaimonic well-being and link it directly to lower levels of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other maladies.
You’re happy, Holly, right? You’re happy because you work hard at your marriage and at motherhood, and because you’re committed to volunteerism and serving your community through your church and your work. Your life has purpose. You do hard but good things over and over.
That makes my pride for you greater than the fiery passions of a thousand suns.
You came home for a visit two weeks ago with Gabriel. One morning, I heard his tiny voice from behind a closed door—the door to the bedroom you once shared with your sister. I heard, “Bompa! Bompa! Bompa!” and my heart stopped. That’s what you guys called your grandfather, my father, God rest his soul.
“Bompa! Bompa! Bompa!” Gabriel called for his grandfather and the circle of life closed around me like a warm embrace. The highest compliment your grandfather could offer another person was to call him “a good man” or her “a good woman.” Goodness is a powerful thing, Holly.
Please make my grandson happy. Raise him to be a good man.
Featured images: Courtesy of Holly Flickinger
Author Photo: © Richard A. Bloom/Nat’l Journal