Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 29, 2002
Letting go is hard to do, says uncle
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Sitting on my desk is a photo of me doing something unusual for a priest. I'm happily burping a baby. The expression on my face is one of sheer delight. The baby's face is something else again. The child is my nephew, now 18 years old and getting ready to head off to college.
It was my privilege to be around for almost all of the jobs that adults do for kids as they grow up. I was even blessed to be in the delivery room when he was born. Through diapers and bottles, formulas and inoculations, I got the gift of seeing a youngster develop. I remember the first day of school. I saw days of great joy and others dampened by tears.
As a priest and an uncle, I also hope that the faith I treasure will have some measure of meaning for this child. Happily, that's the way it is. Not that he doesn't ask a zillion loaded questions. He does. And he doesn't suffer an insufficient answer lightly either. But he does believe, and believes with enthusiasm.
It's a true gift to share in the life of a child. You know that you're not only affecting that youngster, but also the lives of everyone he will touch. The analogy of planting good seeds is appropriate here. And of all the seeds you plant, probably none matters more than the ability to reason clearly between right and wrong.
We're not going to be there to offer advice when it comes time for key decisions to be made. Instead, young people will make their decisions based in large part on what we were able to communicate as they grew. The tough part is that we're not alone in their hearts and minds. Our influence is accompanied by the twin pressures of peers and popular culture. And our voice is frequently not in tune with those other voices.
I recall one experience in a store specializing in CDs and videos. I had told my nephews and niece that they could each select one gift in recognition of their fine report cards.
The two younger ones selected cartoons. The pre-teen chose a CD by a popular band. And marked clearly on the cover was a Parent Advisory: the album may contain language which is offensive. When I balked at buying it I ran smack into my competitors. "But lots of my friends have this album" (peer influence). And "if it's so terrible, why is it one of the top ten albums?" (popular culture). The truth is, I didn't know why his peers were allowed to buy the stuff, and the fact that such garbage is widely popular matters to me even less.
So I have to be the guy who says: "It contains language and a message that I don't want to support, so no, I can't let you have that CD." The car ride home was fairly silent, but I suspect the message was received: We are responsible for the choices we make, and in the end, we have to live with ourselves.
Now this young man is about to leave home. And, frankly, letting go is much harder than I thought. I used to think it was just a clich‚ that children grow up too fast. But it's true.
For years, I've promoted a message about parenting (or uncle-ing in my case) that a truly healthy parent loves, nurtures and encourages a child - then loves enough to let the child go, to find and fulfill his or her own unique destiny. Unhealthy parents do the opposite: through control, manipulation and dominance, they attempt to own or possess their child. They never want to let go and allow a child to flourish as an independent person.
I still believe that message. But, as my much loved nephew prepares to go, I, too, find it hard to let go. I know he is "good seed" and may well bear abundant fruit.
But, God, I miss that kid getting burped on my lap!
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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