Answered Many Times Over

Dear Will:

I was a horrible Boy Scout, among The Worst Scouts of All Time according to some pundits. To wit: I never earned so much as one merit badge. Over the course of my Scouting career, I ascended to the rank of Second Class, which I think in those days required that you show up to a meeting and recite from memory the Scout Motto (“Be Prepared”). Second-class indeed. More like Low-class Scout if you ask me.

So you cannot begin to calculate the magnitude of my stupefaction over the fact that my very own son, Seth, has become an Eagle Scout. It’s an occurrence that seems simply impossible. If you’re anything like me (and I pray that you aren’t), your first thought on hearing that news is: Excuse me?

And yet it’s true, due in no small part to the excellent leadership of adults who are quite decidedly Not His Parents. He has been blessed with the inspired influence of several talented men who have provided him the instruction and good example that his father never could have. His Scoutmaster, Warren Owens, has set high standards for him and his fellow Scouts and expected them to live up to those standards. Since Seth became a Boy Scout at 11, Warren and others have taught him, coached him, tolerated and disciplined him, devoting time and attention and love to him as if he were one their own sons.

And then, to his credit, Seth has added to that good influence his own motivation to achieve. Case in point: To reach this rank, Seth has earned nearly 30 merit badges (whose son is this?). For his final project, he raised over $10,000 which he used to rebuild the bald eagle exhibit at the Santa Ana Zoo. You should go there and check it out, reminding yourself as you gawk that the work was organized and directed by a 14-year-old. Remarkable.

I’m reminded of the helpless feeling that Dana and I had when we brought our firstborn, Luke, home from the hospital for the first time. There was no owner’s manual, no service contract. There are more detailed instructions on a bottle of shampoo than you get when you bring home an infant. I remember all too well those first panic-filled weeks of parenthood. How do you hold this thing? What does that cry mean? Who would entrust us with something so fragile? I was fairly certain that we were going to break that little thing. (In fact we did: Luke’s leg was in a cast before he had learned to walk. But that’s a story for another time.)

We prayed hard in those days that our ignorant efforts might be supplemented by a steady dose of Divine Intervention: Heavenly Father, watch over our son. Keep him safe from harm and illness. Help him to be happy, and bless him with just enough success and sufficient opportunity that he may live up to his divine potential. Please don’t let our poor parenting be a detriment to him in any way, today or tomorrow or later in life. And when he is not with us, please send angels to watch over and protect him and show him the way.

It’s a prayer we have offered in some form for each of our children every day of their lives. A prayer that has been answered many times over by people such as Warren Owens. Angels. Sent from God. In answer to the heartfelt pleading of two parents in way over their heads.


I Wish You Could See Her Dance

Dear Will:

I wish you could see her dance.

My daughter is a supremely gifted ballerina. Not that I know the first thing about dancing, you understand. But people who know the first and second and fifty-seventh things about dancing have told us repeatedly that she’s got “it” (whatever “it” is). And at this point, I’ve sat through enough dance performances that I’m starting to see what they’re talking about. In a room full of talented ballerinas, Bryn still manages to stand out—not in a flashy, hey-look-at-me sort of way, but rather with an understated elegance. Your eye is drawn to her—even if you’re not the dad.

I would not have chosen this path for my daughter, believe me. For starters, ballet is extremely expensive (who knew?). And since she is at the studio six days a week (20 to 30 hours!), it is a major burden on the family. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the conference room at the Maple Conservatory of Dance waiting (yet again) to take my daughter home. If she had chosen instead to pursue, say, biochemistry, I would just have to see that she got to and from school and got her homework done. And maybe if she joined the Chemistry Club (or whatever it is that aspiring biochemists join in high school) it might have cost me 25 bucks. Piece o’ cake.

But here’s the thing: She loves it. LOVES it. She gladly endures the sweat and the pain and the hard work because she isn’t fully herself until she puts on her pointe shoes and starts to move. That’s when she becomes centered, sentient, pulsing with life. In fact, she has been dancing for so long now (since she was four or five?) that her identity is inextricably linked to ballet. When I introduce myself to someone at 15, I might have said, “I’m Peter, and I like to play basketball.” Bryn never says it that way. It’s not “I like to dance,” but rather, “I’m Bryn, and I’m a dancer.”

It bears repeating, however: Bryn is 15. Her journey of life is underway, but relatively speaking she’s barely left the driveway. So much of her future remains to be determined, so many choices of great significance remain to be made. But because of her avocation, she’s already feeling the pressure to know for sure what she should do. I’m told it’s not uncommon for dancers to join professional companies at 16 or 17 years of age. (“Over my dead body,” says the dad.) And since she’s talented, she feels that she should start moving in that direction—or at least that her colleagues in the dance world expect her to. That pressure doesn’t come from her parents, I assure you, nor from her teachers; but maybe from well-meaning strangers and interested friends who ask her, repeatedly, what her future plans are. And that pressure is intense. Of course I’ve told her not to worry about it, told her that at 15 the biggest decision you should have to make is whether to order the burrito or the fish tacos. But giving her that good advice does not come close to making it so.

Later tonight, after her 9:30 dinner (imagine!) and an hour or more of homework, she will curl around her scriptures as she does each night. I can only hope that she turns then to the fourth chapter of Mark where she will read of the time when Jesus’ disciples were troubled themselves by a raging storm. They did as she might, and called to Him who calmed the wind and waves with simple words: “Peace, be still.” May He likewise bring peace to her troubled soul.

As I wait here for her to come off pointe, to return to earth and settle—exhausted—beside me in the car, I tilt my head to see her through the window slats. I look at her there, floating weightless across the floor, light as a distant melody, absorbed in the flow and emotion of the moment. One small strand of hair has freed itself from her tight, tight bun. It dances gently across her brow, moving effortlessly to music one can only imagine.


This I Believe

Dear Will:

Do you ever listen to NPR? Over the last several months they have been running this series of commentaries from both the famous and the not-so-famous entitled “This I Believe.” It is a brief opportunity for someone to get a little personal about whatever. I figured that since NPR is unlikely to want to put me on the air, I would foist myself on you instead. You know, just like I do every month.

Here’s what I believe:

  • I believe in that magical feeling you get around a newborn baby.
  • I believe in blue jeans any time you can get away with them.
  • I believe in warm cinnamon rolls and really, really cold milk.
  • I believe the USA basketball team was robbed in the finals of the ’72 Olympics.
  • I believe in the sound of the ocean as the sun is going down.
  • I believe in lots and lots of laughter.
  • I believe in the UCLA Bruins. (Not really. I just desperately want to believe.)
  • I believe in decorating your office with your children’s artwork.
  • I believe in the sight of a mom, snuggled up with a child, reading a book out loud.
  • I believe in quiet Sundays at home.
  • I believe in occasionally having breakfast for dinner.
  • I believe in the power of really good writing.
  • I believe in occasionally letting the kids stay up late—and more than occasionally getting them to bed early.
  • I believe in the awe-inspiring National Parks.
  • I believe in laptop computers.
  • I believe in the smell of fresh cut grass.
  • I believe in peaceful music.
  • I believe in regularly setting aside your own needs to take care of somebody else’s.
  • I believe that I have no idea how the world and all its wonders were created but that for sure it didn’t happen by chance.
  • I believe that everyone should try really hard to be nice.
  • I believe in the power of prayer.
  • I believe that God knows me personally and will help my in life when I ask . . . and when I’m ready.
  • I believe in prophets and scripture and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ.

I also believe that I have spent enough time telling you what I believe. Now it’s your turn. What do you believe?