Sunday, June 04, 2000

With love

Letter to a graduate

        The day was perfect as only the best of June days can be: a China-blue sky cushioned with pillowy white clouds riding on a gentle breeze that made emerald leaves sigh and wave.

        I drove home from the hospital in a sleepless fog, brewed a cup of fresh-ground coffee and sat in the back yard, watching the clouds float by as it slowly dawned on me that I was a father. My daughter — that's you — would be a member of the Class of 2000, I thought. That seemed as distant as forever. It was as close as tomorrow.

        Some fathers talk about the beauty of seeing their children born. Not me. I was paralyzed by awkwardness, feeling like the careless camper who caused a three-alarm forest fire, getting in the way while everyone tried to put it out.

        For me, the beauty came later, alone in the backyard, looking at a perfect June sky over a world that was suddenly brighter, sharper, more focused and colorful.

        I sometimes think it's amazing that your Class of 2000 has survived all the cultural claptrap and feminist foolishness and find-your-selfishness that we perpetrated on your generation. We believed boys and girls were just the same souls in different packages. We thought divorce was more healthy than two unhappy parents — so moms and dads dumped the misery on their children by splitting up. We were told over and over that day care was “good” for kids.

        As I look back now to the day that we went off to work and turned our most precious possession over to a woman who answered an ad in the paper, who arrived in a rusted car full of fast-food wrappers, someone we had never met — I am heartsick.

        But that's what “everybody” did, and somehow you survived it until the day came when your mother could be there to guide and help you when you came home from school.

Smarter than us
        As it turns out, your Class of 2000 is more mature by miles than I was at that age. If I had even bothered to answer such questions when I was a high school senior, I would have advised my freshman self, “Don't ride your motorcycle down the hall past the principal's office unless you are sure the paper he hands you at commencement will be a diploma and not a warrant.”

        My class motto would have been: “I feel like letting my freak flag fly.”

        You are less rebellious. More grounded in faith, more confident and poised, less squirrely about dating.

        Yet you are also more naive about the darker side of the world. I sometimes worry that your generation's great strength — not judging others — is also your weakness: the failure to discern and, yes, discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong, good ideas and stupidity in a designer label. I pray you don't learn it the hard way as we did so many times.

A parent's prayer
        As you know, I seldom write about family. But I hope you and others will forgive me my boasting today, as we forgive other parents who are so full of pride that they can't quite swallow and their eyes brim with joy.

        You see, one June day almost 18 years ago, a pair of married children became parents, graduating into adulthood and becoming a family.

        Exactly a year later, I sat in the same back yard and watched you reach for low-hanging blossoms and take your first, wobbly steps.

        And now, in what seems like the same lifetime fraction of a minute, here you are taking your first faltering steps to the edge of the world, where you will soon fly away like a bird into the blue sky.

        On graduation day, it is this Dad's prayer that you will have a life filled with the same love, joy and wonder that we felt on the day you were born.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.