Letting Go

Stating that I’m letting go of something or someone implies that I once had control, but most of the time, having control is a lie.

Moving to San Francisco meant that Judy and I had to let go of many things: home ownership, cars, friends, and family—especially our kids. The latter was the hardest. Our youngest was 21 when we moved and lives in an apartment while she attends Texas State University, so it’s not like we saw her every day. Our two boys were 23 and 25 by the time we settled in our West Coast apartment, which meant that they had jobs and were busy as well, but they lived with us and we talked often.

Having a 2000-mile gap means that we have to work harder to communicate and spend time together. They’ve all visited our new home at least once and Meaghan just left after an extended weekend stay, but gathering now takes more planning and money. This also means that we’ve given up even more control over their lives. We can’t just drive over to their apartments for a visit and we can’t intervene if there is a problem. This letting go is hard. These are our children and the natural urge is to guard and protect them. Now we have to trust that they will keep us in the loop and tell us when they need help.

As fathers go, I’ve always been more hands off. I trusted that my kids would recover from their mistakes and thus I let them flounder a bit as they grew up. That may be because I was given a wide berth as a child and entrusted with responsibilities and I wanted to give my children that same gift. When they didn’t do what I would have done, I was always a bit lost and didn’t always react appropriately.

“Really? You want to sleep in this messy room and have no problem entering that disaster of a bathroom?”

As they shrugged with indifference, my skin crawled. Compared to our kids, I was Mr. Clean as a teen.

“So you don’t want your own apartment? You’re okay still living here with your parents in your twenties?”

I wanted nothing more that to escape my parents’ world as soon as I could. Apparently, we made life too comfortable for them. Maybe if I was angry more often or didn’t enjoy the same flavor of Pop Tarts as my sons or didn’t watch the same movies. Who knows.

The struggle was and is that we enjoy spending time with our offspring—flaws and all—while at the same time wanting them to be independent adults. I know that I was seen as the heartless one pushing them out of the nest while their mother was more focused on them getting an education and careers. Judy was pushing them to grow and not to go.

But part of me was looking forward to seeing them take flight. I wanted to see what they could do on their own and how they would deal with the real world. I was also looking for some more time with my wife. After 25 years of raising kids with the last 6 also taking care of Judy’s dad, it felt like we needed time again as a couple.

Having a 4,000 square foot home made it hard to say that we didn’t have room for our kids to live with us and downsizing was going to require an investment of time and money to unload our house, so my efforts to empty the nest were pretty lame. Then the opportunity to move to California happened and accelerated everything.

Our house had to be fixed up. Our stuff had to be reduced. Two of our children had to find places to live. And all this had to happen in less than three months.

One way to get your kids to move out is to sell the house out from under them: “You either have to get an apartment or cozy up to the new owners. Your choice.”

The chaos of starting a new job and prepping a house for sale distracts you from the reality that you are going to have to let go of your life and the people around you. We were having to let our children go. I couldn’t just help them with a car repair or fix a problem in their bathroom or hang out and chat about life events—they were on their own now.

I think it really hit me when we drove to Napa with Meaghan. Our adult daughter was visiting us from Texas to hang out over glasses of wine. She talked about moving to a different apartment and I realized this is the first time we wouldn’t be there to move her.

We talked to our boys about scheduling a visit of their own, but they said they’d have to work out when they could both get vacation time. They have their own lives and schedules now. Little by little, they have become more independent.

In some ways, I worry more about them now than I did when they were little. Will they continue to expand their world? Are they doing enough outside of work? Do they know that they have the universe at their fingertips?

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. It’s easy to think that you have to do what you are doing to live. It’s easy to lose sight of the possibilities and wonder and opportunities all around you. It’s hard to let go.

But letting go is the only way to fly. Life is about exploration of the world within each of us as well as around us. We can do so much if we let go of hate, prejudice, bad habits, or our perceived limitations. Being tethered to a life without dreams of a better future is a terrible prison.

My wish is that by stepping out in faith and letting go of so much in our lives, our kids will see that they can do more than what they are doing now. Judy and I see so much potential in our children and we want them to soar.

What could happen if everyone in the world just let go a little? That thought gives me a chill of excitement.