Parenting and the Long Goodbye

There’s a Norman Rockwell painting that’s especially meaningful to me. It’s called “Breaking Home Ties”, and was discovered years ago hidden behind a wall in Rockwell’s Vermont home. In it, Rockwall depicts a dad’s final moments with his son before he leaves home. The father and son sit on the running board of an old 1930’s truck. The dad is obviously a farmer, dressed in well-worn jeans, a wrinkled denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and black boots. His sun-baked hands clutch two hats – one his old, dusty field hat and the other, a newer one he holds for his son. A homemade cigarette dangles from his mouth. His hair has grayed around the temples. On his face are crevices carved from age and years of hard work. He’s leaning over, waiting for the sound of a train whistle, a sound that will signal the lump to form in his throat. There’s a slight hint of worry on his brow. Or perhaps he’s just thinking about what he’s going to say to his boy when the conductor shouts . . . All aboard! Then comes that moment when he looks his son squarely in the eyes and says his goodbye.

The boy, on the other hand, is sitting erect and in excited expectation. His brows are raised as he peers down the road in anticipation of the train that is soon to arrive. He’s dressed for the journey in his “Sunday suit”, complete with crooked tie. Cradled gently in his hands is a lunch wrapped in paper, no doubt prepared one last time by a loving and thoughtful mom. And I bet there’s a note slipped inside. His bags are all packed, complete with a college pennant sticker already stuck on the side of his suitcase. On top of that suitcase sit 3 books, portraying his enthusiasm to dive into college life. On his knee rests the head of the family dog, a loyal collie with a forlorn look in his eyes. But the boy is ready, eager for what lies ahead and for what life has in store for him.

This dad looks like he’s at the end of a long journey. He’s given it all he had. Now together, he and his son sit in silence. Not a word spoken between them. One reflecting. The other anticipating. One remembering. The other waiting. The time for speeches has long since passed. Appropriately named by Rockwell, those Home Ties are indeed in the process of being broken in this scene. It’s time.

Time to let go.

Yesterday morning, my alarm clock jump-started me out of the netherworld at 4:45am. It was time to take my middle son, Stuart to the airport. He’s spending the next year teaching English at a private school in South Korea. A recent Double-Major, Cum Laude graduate of the Honors College at the University of Arkansas, I have every confidence Stuart will succeed in this endeavor, though he’ll no doubt face some challenges along the way.Norman-Rockwell-Breaking-Home-Ties

Having officially “let go” of our sons when they went off to college, my wife and I received a bonus blessing when Stuart came home following graduation for several months to help me with some editing and research. So this morning’s bleary-eyed goodbye at the airport was a kind of “second releasing” of our son, not into acedamia this time, but into a cross-cultural work experience. But at 23, he’s a capable man and can take care of himself.

I don’t usually get emotional at such farewells. It typically hits me later on, like when I pass by a vacant bedroom, or glance at a picture hanging in the hallway. But those tears are the no regret variety. Emotion springing from a place of deep contentment and gratitude.Stuart Airport-1

Those eminent theologians, The Rolling Stones, once wrote, “Time waits for no man, and it wont wait for me”. That’s not just classic Rock and Roll or good theology. It’s practical wisdom, too. Time does indeed march on. Relentlessly. Like a soldier on a mission. Time has a job to do, a destiny to fulfill. Racing towards ultimate extinction in eternity, it cannot be slowed or stopped, only measured, harnessed, redeemed and used. Solomon said there is a “time for everything . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot”.[1] I’m not convinced history’s wisest man was talking about parenting, but I’m pretty sure he would agree that there is also a time for parents to let go. It’s a time when a mom and dad’s grip on their child loosens, relinquishing the strong guidance and direct influence they once had. That day may seem light years away for some, but it will inevitably come. And sooner than you realize. Parents, it’s your job to prepare your child, and yourself, for that day. Even today is one tick of life’s clock closer to the time when you’ll close that long episode of your parent/child relationship. An end to an unforgettable era and a transition to a new chapter of life.[2]

[1] Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

[2] Parts of this blog post were excerpted from A Dad-Sized Challenge – Building a Lifechanging Relationship with Your Son by Jeff Kinley

Time Waits for No One, by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

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