Viewpoints: How Cat Stevens helped me say goodbye to my daughter
Sarah, our youngest daughter and I were arguing in the car (or more accurately she was telling me how wrong I was about many pieces of pre-college advice I was offering, unsolicited, of course) when she put one of her “playlists” on the radio, blasting. The second song to play was “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens and I felt a twinge of the sadness I had been feeling the last few weeks anticipating her launch to college.
Unexpectedly she started to sing the son’s part of the song (which is a duet between a father and son). “How can I try to explain? When I do he turns away again. It seems it’s always been the same old story … ” and she squeezed the top of my hand. With a little teariness, I sang the father’s part by heart and we had one of those eternal moments of connection around one of my favorite songs, one that I didn’t even know she loved! In case there is a stray reader who isn’t remembering the lyrics (Cat was big in the late ’70s after all) a father begs his child to take his time growing up, to live slowly, to be careful, and the son answers with an intense desire to leave home quickly and find his own way “..from the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way, and I know, that I have to go...away, I know I have to go.”
The great poignancy of the song is that Cat sings both the father’s wise words and pain at his son leaving and the son’s eager desire to leave home and find his own way with equal compassion and understanding. It is after all, the greatest irony of raising a child that getting ‘fired’ is a sign that we have succeeded, that our beloved child will be fine without us. Listening and singing along, I remembered the lesson that I have learned and relearned about 1,000 times in letting go of our older kids. Sarah will need to learn her own lessons from her young adult life experiences, just as I did, no matter how hard I try to gently (or not so subtly) send her warnings, advice, “suggestions.” She will have to say “No Thank You!” in order to eventually own her growth and choices.
And yet, it is sad, and I never had enough time to do all the things I wanted to do with her, all the crafts we could have done, all the pictures I meant to take and frame, the fact that I talked when I should have been quiet, and I was quiet when I might have said the right thing, that I was jealous when her friends and school connections knew much more than I did about her daily life, and I just plain wasn’t ready to hug her goodbye on a hot day in Vermont.
It was too soon, this college business, it was supposed to take so much longer, and involve so many deep discussions...and yet, it was the same with our older three children. The time for them to not need me as much came much too soon, and it still surprised me even though I not only knew this was coming, but I spend a great deal of my professional life helping others adjust to the same realities.
To all of you saying goodbye this month, please know that the connection with your child is always there, and will deepen, although in a different way, if you can walk the difficult line between being present and letting go, your child will still need you, and always love you.
The “pink slip” you have been handed in the form of eye rolls, exasperation, the “I know that Mom! Dad!” are signs that you have done your job well.
I am sending out some virtual caring to all parents who have made that long drive home this August. Your job is not over, but the landscape and many of the rules have forever changed. You will be OK and so will your child, after many mistakes more triumphs in time, and many lessons learned.
The author is a therapist and owner of Insight Counseling in Ridgefield, specializing in adolescent, young adult and family therapy.