• Allan Shedlin

Every Involved Dad Must Discover the Power of Holding On While Letting Go

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

As a baby, I held her in my arms every day. As a toddler, I tried to hold her as much and as often as I could before she wriggled away, off to play another game or make her next discovery. Even if out of my reach, I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.

When she hit middle school, I learned to be comfortable giving her more than an arm's length. Walking and biking to and from school without me was one of many adjustments. Though we were often still the go-betweens, we planned fewer playdates for her. Her mom and I retained veto power, of course, but we granted her more autonomy to decide what she wanted to do. Along with when and where and with whom.

Last summer, we gave her a new iPhone for her birthday and as a reward for earning her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. For demonstrating her trustworthiness, we gifted her with more mobility.

We’ve gone from always in my arms, to arm’s length, to letting go.

Now untethered (but virtually trackable), I wondered whether she was prepared for such independence. The bigger question: was I?

So far, the answer to both questions, I’m proud to say, has been yes. But with each birthday, I can’t help but feel like my oldest daughter is moving further away from me, the guy who's been here with her every step of the way since she was born. I've written before on the blog about how I've tried to stay connected with both my girls now that they have so many other things vying for their time and attention. And I think I've done a reasonable job as a dad of staying involved while letting them know I’m here for them even as I try to stay out of their way. It’s a delicate balance that (I think) I’m managing pretty well.

My shy teenager

Now, Morgan has entered her freshman year of high school. She turns 14 next week. We’ve gone from always in my arms, to arm’s length, to letting go. This independence business is getting real. There are more people, activities, clothing, and, um, “biological developments” on which she may or, more likely, may not want my input. So I tread lightly. I hang back and give her space to make decisions. But I do check in with her often enough that she knows I’m paying attention and that I’m taking her wants, needs, emotions, and ideas as seriously as she does.

This new phase of her young-adult life will take her to new places and introduce her to new people, who will introduce her to even more new possibilities. She'll be on her own a lot more, and she should know her mom and dad will still be he