This Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of attending the Biannual Sociology Awards banquet at the University of South Florida where I both teach and take graduate courses in creative writing. It is also the university which both my partner and daughter attend. This particular event was to honor the extraordinary students in the field of sociology, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. This year, my daughter was one of six recipients of the 2017 Wallace scholarship, awarded to undergraduate sociology majors for excellence in studies and extracurricular participation. Before I talk more about the awards, I must digress.
My daughter is an adult student. It feels weird to say I have an adult daughter, perhaps because it ages me, perhaps because it ages her. Most likely both. She is twenty-one, which clearly makes her an adult, but still lives at home while she finishes her degree (something I highly recommend to students who have the opportunity to study in their hometown.) Because she is an adult—or at least adultish—she comes and goes as she pleases. She has a job, one which requires her to leave very, very early in the morning on her work days, and she has a boyfriend. She is also a full-time student and interns once a week at a clinic. I don’t tell you these things to toot her horn—although I will get to that soon enough—I explain her schedule to illustrate the complexity of her life.
My partner and I are both in school also and run a real estate appraisal company. In addition, as part of her degree program, my wife interns three days a week. The three of us are very rarely home together, four if you include our twelve-year-old son and, with the exception of Friday night, which is always taco and movie night—usually either one of the Harry Potter movies or Marvel movies—we are hardly ever in the same room. Life is fast and busy and tricky and challenging and intense. If she didn’t live at home, I fear we would never speak.
Fast forward to Wednesday night. The emcee called each of the six recipients of the Wallace scholarship onto the stage, including my daughter and, one by one, gave a brief bio of each student and why they won the award. The first student’s resume was impressive. The second even more. This continued down the line, with my daughter being the fifth recipient. As they approached her bio, I felt an overwhelming discomfort growing within me. What would they say about her? What is on her resume? I was nervous because I realized I didn’t know what she was doing. When it was her turn, the bio read like this:
Erin is a senior here at USF, where she double majors in sociology and women and gender studies. After graduation in December, Erin will begin the graduate program for Clinical Social Work. She plans to use her degree to work in the clinic setting, offering help and counseling for women, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
I have never been so proud and embarrassed at the same time. Proud of her because of the amazing things that she has done, is doing, and will do. I was embarrassed for me because I wouldn’t have been able to provide that bio. Sometimes, we get so consumed with our own lives—and I say we here but I really mean I—that we (I) lose sight of both the comings and goings of those around us. My daughter is doing amazing work. She is truly becoming the human that her mother and I have been trying to raise. I have been missing it. We pass likes ships in the night. She leaves before I rise most days, and I am at my desk long after the rest of the world retires for the night. I miss her.
I try and use these moments, moments of confusion, or embarrassment, or overwhelming anxiety, or anger, or sadness, as teaching moments. I try to look at them objectively and learn what I can from them. I try and teach this to my children. My partner, admittedly, does this much better. As a parent, I want my children to be successful members of the human race. My daughter is doing that, has been doing that, and I have been missing it. On Wednesday night I was reminded of how proud of her I am. I was reminded of how hard she works to make this world a better place.
I think raising children is like writing a novel. Of course I think this, me being a writer. You spend so much time working on this book, this child, this piece of you. You pour your heart and soul, countless hours of joy and frustration, pain and growth, love and kindness; and then eventually you have to send it out into the world – without you. You can no longer protect it. You simply have to do your best with it while you can. It’s challenging, I’m learning, trying to navigate the world of having a grown-up child in the house. Perhaps because I can no longer control her. Perhaps because I can no longer protect her. Perhaps it’s challenging because I cannot yet come to terms with the fact that she is growing up and one day she will be gone.
Also by John Williams, here on GMP:
Children will mimic what they see and hear from you.
A father reflects on how he wishes he had answered a tough question in his youth. Years later, his son’s answer makes him proud.
How did you learn about masculine ideology?
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