Parents never really know how they’ve raised their children. There are proxy indicators along the way, of course. Good grades in school, Scout badges, summer jobs, selection to traveling sports teams.
But all those indicators can be weighted with a thumb on the experiential scale. In my small town, for example, my kids might be treated favorably or given second chances because my spouse is so damned nice to everybody. Maybe my kid is a royal jerk in the dugout, but because he routinely strokes fastballs to the gap he makes every all-star team, thereby checking a widely recognized “good kid” box.
I’ve been thinking about parents’ defining job these last weeks as I prepare to send my twin sons off to college. By almost any metric, they’ve achieved all their mother and I could have wanted or expected: high school valedictorian and salutatorian, all-state distance runners, capable hunters, dependable friends, and trustworthy employees. If they’ve never developed the culinary skills I may have wished, they’re good hands with the dishes. They can splice rope, start a fire, tamp a post, and back a trailer.
In all these ways, and in the ways that years turn to generations, my wife and I have accomplished our signal task: we’ve prepared children to go forward without us.
Still, as I dropped one son off at the University of Montana last week, I fretted about all that I haven’t done: prepared my kids for heartbreak, taught them how to monetize an idea, how to console a grieving partner, and how to undercut a hanging log. And I wondered how we’d transition into the next phase of our relationship, each of us with fledgling, uncertain independence.
Deep down, I wonder: how well did I raise my children?
I got a partial answer to that question today as I flew with my other twin to a new start at the University of Michigan. We were seated apart on the last flight, from Minneapolis to Detroit. After touching down, I stood outside the airbridge, waiting for Merlin. He arrived and as we prepared to head to baggage claim, an older woman bee-lined for us. She stuck out her hand to me, and as I shook it she explained that she and her husband had been seated in the back of the plane with Merlin.
“I just want to tell you what a very bright and nice young man you have. He’s going to do very well at anything he tries.”
Merlin was blushing as we walked to baggage claim. I was blinking hard with a mixture of gratitude and selfish sorrow. As much as I’d like to keep these nice young men for myself, it’s time for them to go forward into whatever’s next.
I’ve done what I could to get them ready.