The year is 1997. I am strolling slowly up the sidewalk to our sitter's house, a tiny bundle in my arms. I'm taking my time. My daughter is looking up at me, with that wonder in her eyes. I'm whispering to her. "You can do great things with your life, if you work hard and do your best."
No one enjoys dropping their child off for the day, but I know I'll be back to get her later. I'm in no hurry. We'll have more time, lots of time. We'll have all the time in the world.
Or so I thought.
Now that precious bundle is graduating high school. She took me up on my advice, and then some. I used to help her write essays; now she can spin a story better than her old man ever could. She took her horse to a top 15 placing in the National Junior Arabian horse show last summer. When it came to homework, she developed a work ethic – a mindset that still eludes many adults. Next week she'll graduate as co-valedictorian of her class and head off to college, shiny diploma and scholarship in hand.
Meanwhile we're just trying to catch our breath. Blink your eyes and those years flash by. Every parent of a teen knows this. We tell our friends with babies, 'Enjoy, the time goes fast.'
Does it ever.
God's greatest social experiment
Whether you are a farmer, a journalist or any other occupation in between, one thing is clear: Parenting is God’s greatest social experiment. He gives us this job with no handbook, no experience, no way of ever knowing we’re doing the right thing. But to make up for all that uncertainty he drops a ton of love in our hearts, more love than we could ever imagine.
There’s a bridge we cross when we become fathers and mothers. In one instant we no longer live for ourselves, but for the sake of someone else. Parenting is the most selfless thing a person can do. It's also the most selfish, because it is the one thing that brings the most constant joy.
We often joke about how expensive it is to raise kids, but the intangibles we get back far outweigh the cost. I got to see life through the eyes of an innocent child. That was priceless. We saw her develop into a young woman of integrity and spiritual depth, become a person grounded in truth, a person with deep faith in God, a person with purpose.
I'd say it was money well spent.
At one point in my life, my dream was just to see her grow up. When I was first diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, the key discussion was how or if we should treat the disease. As a dad with a 7-year-old child, the answer was clear. We would fight the beast; we would fight it hard, and that's exactly what we did. I woke up each day during chemo fully motivated to keep fighting. It’s probably why I’m still here now.
Back then I came up with a bucket list of advice to share with McKenna as she approached adulthood. At the risk of sounding like a corny graduation speech, I offer up these thoughts on behalf of every parent who wanted to offer their kid some wisdom but for whatever reason could not find the words or right time to share them.
Believe in yourself
Believe that you can be everything you want to be with hard work and effort. Insecurity is the little voice that says, “I’m not good enough.” Everyone hears that voice now and again; it keeps us humble. Don’t ever give in to that voice. Look inside, develop your beliefs and convictions, and know where you are going and who you are. As you go into this great big world, there will be people who want to tear you down or make you doubt yourself. Remember who you are, where you came from, and the values you cherish. It's the foundation of the adult you are about to become.
You learned as a small child to share your toys and take turns. As you go into the world you’ll share your talents in ways you cannot imagine today.
You can’t change what others say or do, but you can control how you respond to them. Skip the blame, solve the problem.
One of the hard things about growing up is learning that life isn’t always fair. The truth is, your life won't always be roses and sunshine. But don't let the problems you face define who you are. In fact, the challenges you face are just opportunities to grow as a person. You learn something about yourself when you face adversity.
I've been lucky to see a lot of this world. You're lucky to be born in a country where the only real limitation is whatever barriers you put up yourself. You have the tools to do whatever you wish. Do you also have the desire to take all the steps you need to succeed? Only you know the answer. The world needs ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Letting go will not be easy, but time is a relentless master. So, we journey on. These next few months will fly by. A new experience beckons in college.
Soon enough my daughter and I will be strolling along, on another sidewalk far from here. We'll meet new friends and see her first college dorm at Butler University.
We'll drive away as she turns to face a future wide open with possibilities. She'll have all the time in the world.
Or so she'll think.