Sometimes best thing a parent can do is step aside

I’m not one of those fathers who wield strident preferences for my sons’ respective career paths. However they ultimately make their living, I care only that it’s honest work, meaningful work, and work that turns them on! Work that engages their passion.

OK, yes, I’ll be disappointed if one of them becomes director of public relations for a cigarette manufacturer. Or a cashier at an adult bookstore. Or looks at me with vacuous eyes and an idiot grin and tells me that multilevel marketing is going to make him a rich man, and “Oh, hey Pop, would you be interested in purchasing a distributorship? You, too, can have a garage full of soap and annoy all your friends!”

I have my values.

I worried about my second born. Delightful kid. Never gives me an ounce of trouble. Creative. Imaginative. Affable. One of the most generous people I’ve ever known. A good friend, who picks good friends.

But he systematically turned his back on everything that defined my boyhood and adolescence. He’s a good student, but has no real passion for academics. I made him try team sports. He picked baseball, dutifully served his time, and then quit. I made him learn an instrument. He picked the trumpet, “because it only has three buttons to push.” Faithfully served his time, and then quit. As he entered high school, he was blase and in no hurry for romance. This is a good thing, actually, because his father regrets spending his high school years “always having to have a girlfriend.”

Understand: The driving question in my heart for him was not, “Why aren’t you more like me?” Rather, “Who are you? What turns you on, boy?”

Summer 2008. He’s 15. He has come with me to Flagstaff, Ariz., where I’m speaking at a fundraiser for a nonprofit domestic violence shelter. During the break, he stands next to me as I chat it up with an off-duty policeman doing security. I share stories of my college days here, when I did ride-alongs with my college roommate, Bob, himself a Flagstaff police officer.

They call me onto the stage.

Thirty minutes later, I look across the lot. My beautiful boy is still talking to the police officer. Suddenly he turns, finds me with his eyes, and sprints over. His eyes dance. He is breathless. A “light” pours into him, and back out: “Pop! He says I could go on a ride-along tonight! The graveyard shift!”

It’s 2 a.m. when my cell phone wakes me with a text “beep.” I grope for my glasses. “I’m having the time of my life,” it says. “You go, boy,” I text back.

Which means, of course, I’m having the time of my life, too. Some blanket of ecstasy just settles over your soul when your children are alive, well, thriving and happy.

He returned with me to Las Vegas, and promptly enrolled in the Explorers program with the Metropolitan Police Department. Every Wednesday. Every Sunday. Then the academy this past summer, including huge adult cops nose-to-nose bellowing and screaming at my boy, and his shrill, not-quite-a-man voice answering back, “Sir, yes sir!”

And suddenly, there was “team sports.” A physical fitness routine that made him near toss his cookies. He earned the role of platoon sergeant, and promptly found himself doing push-ups for the sins of his platoon. A few months ago, he would have whined about this being unfair. Now, he sees that, until everyone succeeds, no one can succeed.

Suddenly, he had academic passion. He paced my backyard for days, memorizing radio codes, codes for crimes, etc. He sat up late at the dining room table.

I was bust-my-buttons proud at his graduation.

I hardly recognize him these days. Short, military haircut. Deeper voice. Mr. Responsibility. High expectations of self.

And that’s all I cared about. That he would become alive to something. That he would find his treasure. His passion. I’m glad I didn’t panic or overreact to the part of his journey that seemed aimless to me.

It’s a parent’s job to have high expectations, to create opportunities, to surround our children with our admiration and encouragement … and then to get out of the way. Life has a way of coming to call each of us to take our place in the circle of life.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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