Every Involved Dad Must Discover the Power of Holding On While Letting Go
By Scott Beller
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.
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 here when she returns and is ready to share with us. I hope by now she knows her dad will be here for her – to listen, to laugh or cry with her, protect her when/if necessary, and always encourage and support her in pursuit of her dreams.
Many of her needs have and will continue to change throughout her lifetime. Therefore, my parenting also must change, accordingly. As Allan reminds us often, daddying is a lifelong process and commitment. I hope, given the dad I've tried to be for her since day one, that she will always trust me enough to come to me, without hesitation, for whatever she needs.
Especially if what she needs is a big hug from dad.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, and also Editor of the Daddying blog and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.