Dad Next Door: Like There's No Tomorrow
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
This isn’t the column I had planned to write.
Today I sat down at my computer thinking “Summer Fun Issue.” I thought I’d tell some nostalgic story about childhood vacations on Cape Cod, or building sandcastles with my kids. Then I glanced at my inbox, and read an email telling me that a dear friend had become suddenly and unexpectedly ill. Right now she’s in the intensive care unit, fighting for her life.
I’m finding it hard to think about anything else right now, so let me tell you a little bit about her. I first met Chris when our daughters were in middle school together. She was the super-organized manager of the Ultimate Frisbee team while I was the coach. We saw each other almost every school day: at practice, or games, or field trips, or just hanging around school to pick up or drop off our kids. Over time, we became friends.
The first thing you notice about Chris is that what you see is what you get. She has no artifice in her — not a drop. Even if you’ve never met her before, she’s so unguarded that you end up letting down your own guard, almost in spite of yourself. That’s not to say that she lacks boundaries, or that she somehow avoids the insecurities that plague the rest of us. She’s just real. Present. Completely there.
I love talking with Chris about parenting. So often, with other parents, conversations contain an undercurrent of anxiety, or competition. Are my kids doing as well as theirs? Is my parenting measuring up? But with Chris, that’s never the case. She’s more than willing to talk about how hard it is to do it right, and how often she gets it wrong. But in the next breath, she speaks about her daughter with joy, and wonder, and exquisite tenderness. She’s brave enough to show the full range of emotions that this crazy job requires.
Chris is also a teacher — an amazing teacher, I think. I’ve never actually seen her in a classroom, but I can tell you right now that if I had a first grader in her district, I’d move heaven and earth to get my kid into her class. When she talks about teaching, her love and her passion for those kids overflows her great big heart. Her students and their families are very lucky, and I’ll bet they know it.
I tell you all this so you’ll understand that if anyone on earth deserves good fortune and clear sailing, it’s Chris. But that’s not how the world seems to work. And though it doesn’t serve us to obsess endlessly about how short and fickle life can be, ignoring it completely is just as unwise.
Parenting, by its nature, pulls us toward the future. Like builders of cathedrals, we lay a foundation for our childrens’ lives one stone at a time, knowing that the work we’ve started will take decades to complete. But that future, for us and for our kids, is never guaranteed. And even when our minds turn to the present, it’s often to fend off the daily barrage of busy work. Make them lunch, drive them to school, do the laundry, shop for food, register for summer camp. So many hours are consumed with plans for the future, or logistics of the moment, that by the time we collapse into bed the day can seem like a blur — as if we never quite got a grip on it, and now it’s gone for good.
But you know all of this. We all realize that life is short and uncertain, but we try not to think about it because we’re scared, and we feel helpless in the face of it. Today, as I think about Chris, I’m reminded that there is one thing we can do. We can let down our guards, at least for a while, and just be real. Be present. Be completely here.
So this is my summer resolution. When I’m lying on the beach, or hiking through the woods, or just looking at my daughter over a plate of barbecued chicken, I’m going to imagine for a few seconds that this is the last time I’ll ever be able to do this. My last chance. My last day on Earth. If I can manage to do that just once or twice a day, then the day won’t be lost in a blur. Maybe then my life, however long or short it turns out to be, will be a little more mine.
Please hang in there, Chris. This world needs you, and there are more days ahead that I’d like us to share.
Jeff Lee lives, works and parents in Seattle. As this issue goes to press, his friend Chris is improving daily and expected to make a full recovery.