Sometimes you’ve got to let go

I keep tabs on my family. I like knowing where they are, how they’re doing. Knowing their whereabouts was easy when the boys were little, and still feasible until impromptu sleepovers and overnight trips with the fellas eased my wants to the side. Now I hardly know where anybody is.

When my oldest used to visit his best friend as a tyke, he would walk the block between our houses with his buddy’s big sister watching from her corner and me watching his back from ours. He went to Central America last spring, and I thought I could hear his ties to me humming from the strain the whole time he was gone. Then my wife and I left for the Pacific Northwest before he got back, and our youngest went to Minnesota while we were gone, and I went to a meditation course before he got back, and by Labor Day I lived with two young men, not adults mind you, but two guys who clearly didn’t need a daddy. Nobody said that, but I’d hardly seen them for months, and they had survived on their own, thus demonstrating my uselessness. That’s the story I made up.

I’d forgotten about the great discovery I made long ago that the one true path to happiness with little boys on a playground was not to look while they courted disaster with steel and concrete. It felt at first like neglect to ignore a toddler. What kind of father lets his son risk injury or death? A realistic father.

The alternative to informed neglect isn’t constant vigilance, which I’d gotten used to—it’s constant motion, because I had to go with him, matching him whim for whim or I couldn’t help anyway. I’ve spent many a party going up and down stairs with a little boy. I could be vigilant with a highball in the dining room, but if he takes a header off the top step, I’m within grabbing distance or I’m null and void. If I can’t get there in time to make a difference, I don’t want to know what’s going on.

Now I’m always too far away to help, whether I know his approximate location or not. In an emergency, I can’t get there in time to be useful, so they’re actually on their own and have been for a long time.

I rest in the knowledge that I’ve warped them as much as I could, and those various biases and reactions I’ve managed to plant, mostly inadvertently I suppose, will be useful in adversity or not, and I trust them to know the difference.