Friday, August 29, 2008

A Teacher In the Family

As I was finishing my previous blog entry I received the telephone call from our oldest son we have been waiting for all summer. We now have a teacher in the family! He will begin his first job as a third grade teacher in a school district north of the St. Paul metro area in just days. His weekend plans will have to be altered so that he can get his classroom ready.

Kyle is not one to be overly emotive or expressive, so when he called I could not at first ascertain the result of yesterday's interview. He has had two other interviews this summer, neither of which resulted in a teaching position for him.

"So," I said, "How are you?"

"Pretty good. Really good, actually."

"And ... "

"I got the job. I'm going to be a third grade teacher."

"Oh, Kyle. I'm so glad for you. Congratulations!"

We exchanged a few other pleasantries, and he was off to think about his contract and I to thank God, for today is another opportunity to recognize the joy of parenting after years of turmoil. I have been a little anxious all summer long as Kyle has been looking for a teaching job, at points saying that maybe he would have to move out of state, and at others that he might enlist in the military. I have had a feeling all along that if he couldn't teach this fall he might become distracted and never get there. I have talked with too many Elementary Education majors who decided to take a year or two until they could find the job they wanted, and then discover that they couldn't financially or otherwise teach.

Kyle will be an excellent teacher. He enjoys kids in the classroom, takes a special interest in them individually, and has learned (without receiving college credit) many of the nuances of life with special needs children. I am hopeful that as he begins this journey it will be another step in his determining who he wants to be in life. There is something about the responsibility of young lives that causes all of us to make better decisions for our own lives.

I cannot help but think back to the foster parent's living room in Washington State nearly twelve years ago when we met Kyle, lying on the floor complaining that he wasn't feeling well. I've discovered that Kyle is a king of health, so as I look back I suspect it was psychosomatic for him, one more move into people's lives, who lived halfway across the country and whom he did not know. From those early days I believed God would do something special with Kyle's life, and today is witness to the goodness of our Creator and to the hard work of adoptive parenting.

I can only hope that as Kyle begins his work with children that he will have the opportunity to teach someone just like himself, the kid in the classroom who is defiant, angry, mistrustful. And that one day the gift he has been to me will come full circle in the life of another hurt kid who can look back and say that his third grade teacher made all the difference in the world.

The Befuddling Mystery of Human Connection

I understand why some choose a life of isolation and separation from others. It is not a healthy or rewarding way to live, but it is safe to protect oneself from emotional pain and fear of rejection. One of the myths of my childhood and youth that has been shattered is that relationships, with all of their complexity, will one day be easy to form, nurture and maintain.

I have been reading a lot recently in the sphere of family systems theory. The research initiated by Murray Bowen (and others) in the 1950s has in the past decade come to forefront of the therapeutic community (as well as the faith community, which is where I experienced my first exposure to the theories). Basically family systems theory posits that family units function as units, or systems. It is, therefore, important to see the big picture of a family's life and functioning (their process) rather than simply isolating the dysfunctions of a particular person in that system.

It is a fascinating theory, really, because it offers a great deal of hope to those who are feeling burdened or overwhelmed by the relationships in their lives. One of the principles that I continue to benefit from is the one that says it is important to know how you are (to be "self-differentiated") in the process, to remain connected with those whom there is conflict and to avoid completely severing the relationship (emotional "cut-off"). I think this principle is a good one for any parent, but especially for adoptive parents who inherit the family systems and genetic predispositions of people we often have never met. And when one considers that the reason many children enter the foster care system is because of dysfunctional (often extremely, seemingly irreparable family dynamic dysfunctions) systems, it is apparent that the mystery of human connection is multilayered and befuddling mysterious.

As you may have gathered from reading recent blog entries, I am currently navigating the emotional complexities of our oldest son. It seems ironic to even type "emotional complexities" because he would understand himself to be pretty simple and basic in the emotional field, but I am referring more to the level of our interactions than his perception of who he is.

He is a college graduate, a young adult, who has succeeded in many ways. From the day we met him on a foggy December day in Washington State nearly twelve years ago, I recognized in him a potential for something great. He came into our lives blazingly angry, defiant and convinced that he could raise himself better than any parents. His early years were characterized by just such a life. We learned from his paperwork that at the age of four he was getting himself up with an alarm clock to go to kindergarten (which is one of the reasons he is at least one calendar year younger than those in his educational process). He was responsible for the daily cares of his three younger siblings, so he was parentified early on his life. His coming into our lives was a challenge for all of us.

And for whatever reasons, I became his guide. It was really less of a parent at that point than a caring adult (it took him some time to call me "Dad," and even longer to call Claudia "Mom"). I was quite self-differentiated then, and it was quite easy to know myself. After all, I knew who I was and this eleven-year-old simply needed to be cared for and hopefully won over in time. I had patience and I could wait. What else could I do? I knew my role was to be a loving parent, which didn't mean overindulgence, but kindness, compassion and direction, with clear boundaries of right and wrong. And it worked. Gradually he began to trust me and my values, and although we had regular altercations and differences of opinion his emotional life settled and he began to be likeable (some days). Without intention, almost by happenstance, a bond began to form, and I found myself loving a child whose anger and anxieties continued to resolve.

In the latter years of high school that bond was sorely tested on a regular basis as he struggled to gain independence, and I (it was mostly I in those days) sought to erect appropriate boundaries. His contention was that the boundaries were too great, but as I talked with other responsible parents in the community, I learned that my expectations were not all that different than others. We got to high school graduation four years ago proud to see him having done so well for himself, wondering how the outcome might have been different were it not for us. Four years ago this week we brought him to college and left him, wondering how this new freedom would all go.

It was, undoubtedly, more difficult for me than for him. It was not that difficult for his mom who was relieved to have one of the stressors in her life relieved. It was not that difficult for him because he had been ready to leave our home since the moment he arrived. But it was very difficult for me to renegotiate the changes that this transition made.

I've done my best with it, but it has been a continual series of painful moments in letting go. I have come to believe that parents can, in fact, care too much for their children. We cannot be too committed (after all, everyone needs someone in their life to always be there), nor can we be too unavailable (that does not compute with the parental tendency of some to "hover). But we can become so involved in our child's life that we lose ourselves.

And that, says family systems theory, is when anxiety rises and relationships become fragile. I wish I could write today about how to move beyond that, but I am not there. Distinguishing between closeness and distance in relationships is a challenge, especially when dealing with a child-now-adult whose emotional history has been scattered and challenging.

And so the only conclusion I can come to at this moment is that I love my adult son, and that I need to find a way to figure out who I am in this whole befuddling relationship.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Visionary Parenting

It is impossible to describe the many facets that contribute to adequate parenting. There are cultural expectations, family of origin issues, preferences, temperaments to consider. Most people who have children hope to be at least adequate, as marked by various signposts along the way. "If we can just get him through high school we will have done enough," one parent might muse. Others might point to a developmental delay or situational challenge, that once resolved, is a measure of success. "I cannot tell you how nice it will be when she doesn't need to wear diapers anymore." Most people in the world who parent children know that they need (for many reasons) to do at least the minimum for their kids.

I think, though, that there is something different about people who adopt children, especially children who have had months or years of negative experiences, or whose early moments were fraught with pain or addiction or desolation or abandonment. I am one such parent, and I must confess that part of my need to adopt children, especially older ones, was the need to offer them a better chance at life than they would have otherwise had.

I have taken for granted that I would be an adequate parent. After all, didn't the foster care licensure process and then the potential adoptive parent home study process ascertain that? My homes have been safe ones for children to live in. We have an abundance of food (sadly several of our body shapes will attest to that). Claudia and I invest much of our time and energy in our children's lives. We are present for sporting and fine arts events. We are diligent (for more reason that one, admittedly) about their involvement in the community of faith. I know that I am an adequate parent.

But it's not an adequate parent I ever intended to be. I have wanted to be better than average to offer the children who would be mine a source of strength, a reference point for character, a guide. There have been many moments when I have been accorded those opportunities, and it delights my heart. When I hear the words or attitude of one of my children, expressed in his or her own way, echoing back to me a deep premise of my own life, it is gratifying. To know that I have the capacity to form the soul and character of a child is a privilege like no other.

In a word, I have a vision for each of my children. It is a vision larger than that of an adequate parent, and I have to admit that my sense of what visionary parenting is changes as my children grow older. As I see their personalities emerge, and their tendencies becoming typical behaviors, and their ways of being who they are becoming, I have to recognize, in humility, that there is only so much I can do about that. We have had the opportunity to know in the early stages the birth parents of at least a couple of our children, so it helps me to temper my sense of vision. And, try as I might, I cannot make myself let go of a higher vision for my children than they might wish.

Visionary parenting includes, of course, expectations both spoken and unspoken. I am smart enough to know that parents need to harbor some expectations close to the heart, for no one (child or adult) can stand the full flood of a visionary person's expectations all at once. But expectations do need to be communicated during times of openness on the part of the child and during times of closure. Expectations are not moments for parental abuse of authority or for imposition of ideals untested by the person in question. Expectations are the preferred reality, the vision of a life to be. It is, in short, the dream for what life can be for my son or daughter.

I dream differently for each of my children. For one of my sons, my dream is that he would simply finish high school, find a job that will provide his needs and perhaps discover someone to love along the way. For another of my sons I dream of a meaningful vocational life, a growing depth of character and a contribution to the world beyond himself. My dreams are not identical, and I do my best to avoid vicariously living through my children, but it is hard.

It is hard to dream, knowing the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the setbacks, the doubts.

But, I am discovering, it is even harder not to dream. To have no vision for my child is debilitating for him or her and for me. I must dream, I must hold forth some sort of vision for their future and for mine.

Peter Senge, the business guru, writes in The Fifth Discipline, "Emotional tension can always be relieved by adjusting the one pole of the creative tension that is completely under our control at all times -- the vision. The feelings that we dislike go away because the creative tensions that was their source is reduced. Our goals are now much closer to our current reality. Escaping emotional tension is easy -- the only price we pay is abandoning what we truly want, our vision."

Hear me clearly. Adoptive parenting requires vision, but it must be realistic vision, and more often than not is a vision for a child that is different from that of an ordinary child. Adoptive parents cannot allow themselves to carry a vision that will only result in painful frustration for the child and for the parent, but adoptive parents must have a vision, modified by reality, but a vision nonetheless.

To have no vision is to be no parent at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What to Expect From the Emotionally Handicapped

I will be the first to admit that I am something of an emotional cripple at times. Either true to my Minnesota culture or to my unusual childhood, I do not readily hug people who have a surface relationship with me. I have become through the years something of a relationship cynic, although I regularly pray that God will use me in spite of myself. I am not always generous with praise, and I hate emotional situations with no sense of closure in sight. I do not always have a lot of patience for children in my family whose lives head in directions that are blatantly antithetical to the values so dear in my life.

As a result, it is never pretty when I have an altercation with an emotionally handicapped son or daughter. Some of our children are in very good emotional health, for which I give God thanks, but others have been so damaged over the years I sometimes wonder if they ever will be anything but handicapped. I know that I shouldn't expect any more than that from kids whose early years were desperately painful, but somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that attentive, nurturing parents might be able to transform such a person's life.

Maybe my problem is that I expect too much too soon. I always have thought of myself as a fairly patient person, but I am beginning to wonder. I have been involved in a protracted conversation (of sorts) with our oldest son over the past week regarding some lifestyle choices he is making. While the details are too twisted and involved to bother with here, suffice it to say that the biggest issue is a consistent series of mistruths and lies. We have clearly been operating on two levels of trust which can be challenging to even the best of relationships.

I have periodically asked over the past few years (since his departure for college) very specific questions, to which I have received the answer he thought I would want to receive, not the truthful one. My intuition, though, has told me for some time that things were not what he wanted me to believe. So I finally said, "Have I put you in a position where you have had to lie to me?" After several minutes of "What do you mean?" the truth was revealed. When I explained that the chief issue to me was the deception not the actions in question, his response was simply, "Well, dad, I wanted this to be on me, not you. I knew that if I told you the truth it would break your heart." I'm not sure he understands that what breaks my heart is the dishonest and the torment I witness in him as he shares with me that his is a divided life.

So I listen. I do not judge. I do not threaten. I do not replay the "this is our family values" emotional tape one more time. I simply respond by acknowledging his frustration and disappointment. I can now identify the emotional "wedge" which has been gradually over time been creeping in our relationship.

And it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder whether it has ever really mattered that he became my son when he was eleven. Have I been able to spare him any of his hereditary predispositions or the dysfunctions of his birth family that caused both of his parents to lose their parental rights. I ask myself why I have, over and over, initiated a connection with this oldest son of mine. I wonder why I cannot simply walk away and be done with it all.

I am practicing the best principles of family systems theory, to maintain a non-anxious presence, to be who I am in the situation and identify it as such without setting up an emotional cut-off. But it is so very hard. Because I know the person he really is. He knows the person he really is. And it is not the person he now appears to be. I want to grab him by the shoulders, no longer childishly smooth, look into his face peppered with facial hair and into the lambent depths of his brown eyes, and declare, "You are my son, born in my heart twelve years ago at the age of ten. This is not who you are. This is not who I want you to be. This is not who you want to be." I want to embrace him and remind him that he will always be my son, and that there is nothing he can do that will ever change the depth of my love for him.

But I cannot. I cannot because we are sitting in a car, and I am driving as we talk. And even if we were not in a car it would be awkward to treat my young adult son as the emotionally struggling child he is. I cannot do it that way because he is emotionally handicapped. And well, maybe I am, too.

So I settle for words and as gentle a tone as I can muster. I do remind him that I will always love him. I do my best to free him to make the adult-like decision he needs to make for himself. I affirm the honesty of our exchange, that while painful to hear truth is always better than deceit. I listen as his self-imposed torment fills the car where we sit, but this time is somewhat different. In the past his basic emotional response has been anger in varying degrees supplanted by blame. But this time it is different because he does not blame me for his choices. Not this time. He does not blame our family for his situation. Not any more. It's one of the basic young adult struggles. Will he own the values of those he says he has learned to trust (his parents) or the values of those around him. "It's my friends, dad. That's just what we do when we're together."

"Even if it is not really who you are?" I query.

Silence. "It's hard to explain, dad."

And we come to no conclusions, we find little common ground except our shared pain in a situation that while, not intractable, shows no immediate resolution. It is times like these when I feel lowest as a parent, for I am ill-equipped to deal with it all. As a pastoral counselor I can deal with it. I have heard plenty of painful, horrifying stories and offered comfort, direction and solace as a minister. As a friend to another family struggling with their own children I am able to offer good advice, strength and hope.

But I am not my son's pastor. I am not his friend. I am his dad. And I'm not sure who is more emotionally handicapped, he or I.

Bars and Strip Clubs

I have such an interesting and fascinating life, so diverse at times that I lose myself and wonder who I really am. Sunday mornings always remind me of this part of my life, since it is the penultimate moment in my week when I will speak with at least a couple hundred people in snatches of conversation that keep me updated in their lives. My parishioners are an interesting and wondrously diverse group of people.

This is the first church I have served in my pastoral work where we have individuals represented from all age groups, from the tiniest of babies to the oldest of senior citizens, with every age group in between. This means, too, that the expectations they have for me as their pastor are quite varied. Our oldest parishioners would love for their pastor to visit them once a week, sharing a good word, Holy Communion, and an animated conversation of at least two hours' length. This seldom happens. Young families expect (and rightfully so) that I will remember each of their children's names whenever I might see them. This usually happens. Middle aged people expect that I will recognize the busyness of life and not ask too much of them. I usually meet this expectation. And then there are those, age notwithstanding, who simply want their pastor to be on a pedestal, someone who is a source of strength and a symbol of all they hold dear. This is an expectation I can seldom (if ever) meet, but it does make some feel better to fantasize that their pastor is always stable, deeply spiritual and readily available.

Kind of like my kids. My twelve children are also a diverse group in terms of age, life experience, background and expectations of their father. My kids want me to be available for them (whether it's a ride to the YMCA or to a friend's home or to a sporting practice). My kids want me to be a paragon of virtue, even if they are not (another blog post coming soon on that). My kids don't want me to become frustrated at my situation in life, irritable at their inconsideration or intolerable of frequent boundary-crossing episodes.

It is, then, always good when someone challenges those assumptions and catches me off guard. It is refreshing and a bit off-putting, but a moment for me to smile at my humanity once again. The one thing about being a pastor and being a parent that I find so very hard is that no one wants me to be all that human. The expectations are high, the potential for disappointment and disillusionment always lurking in the corner of my being. This, in spite of my best efforts to show myself ordinary and human, honest and authentic.

This morning I had the opportunity to be human, not a parent, not a pastor, but a human.

During our post-service fellowship time I sat at a table comprised of senior citizens, usually an innocuous group who have a tendency to emulate their pastoral presence. We had been chatting for a few minutes. I learned that the lady sitting to my immediate left had just celebrated her 82nd birthday. She is a woman who is always carefully dressed and manicured and truly looks about a decade younger than she is. I commented on that, and she smiled approvingly and then asked how I enjoyed my trip to Washington, DC, earlier this summer. (I had mentioned the trip in my sermon this morning). I responded that I had a great time, reveling momentarily in the events of that week. "How did your wife enjoy your time there?" she asked inquiringly. "Oh, Claudia stayed home; it was just our oldest son and I who were there," I responded.

Setting her coffee cup on the table with an adroit poise she looked in my eyes and said, "So did you hit the bars and strip clubs?" A smile crossed her carefully created face as I bumbled for words. "Well, that's not really how I live my life," I pleaded. "Well, if your wife was home and your son is an adult, it would have been a perfect opportunity," she teased. By this point my face was feeling a little flushed (not from guilt but from surprise), as she responded, "Oh, pastor, you don't need to blush."

Ah, but my dear elderly friend, I do need to blush, even if from surprise. I need to feel human now and then, instead of the creature so many others want me to be. I would like, now and then, to simply be a human in the world, not a pastor entrusted (burdened?) with the spiritual leadership of a congregation. I wish I could be simply a nondescript parent, not the "adoptive parent" (rah rah) of twelve kids with special needs.

For any number of reasons, my escape will not be in bars and strip clubs, but I wonder where it will be? Where will I find the solace I seek, where I can simply be who I am, another well-meaning, often bumbling, peon in the mass of humanity?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Long Line of Defiance

There are some benefits from my family of origin, especially as one who has adopted children with varying special needs. Of all the diagnoses represented in the family that Claudia and I have formed, the one most represented statistically is oppositional defiant disorder (or conduct disorder, the "grown up" version of ODD). Oppositional Defiant Disorder is characterized by consistent refusal to comply with even the most basic, inconsequential requests of an authority figure. And we have dealt with this diagnosis on a daily basis for more than twelve years from any number of our children. We are fortunate that they have not yet all risen up in one mighty oppositional defiant coup d'etat. For whatever reason the ODD episodes are well spaced out over the course of a day, and over months and over years. Some of our children seem closer to resolving the issue than others, but it is still tiring work.

Fortunately for me the behavior is not unusual or surprising. I grew up with it and, I think, probably resemble it, although I try to funnel it into appropriate expressions. I come from a long line of defiance, so I know both its detriments and its possibilities.

My maternal grandfather, whom I knew very well all of my life until he died fifteen years ago, represents the beginning of defiance as I have known it. (There are probably other, earlier generations, but they stand outside my purview of remembrance). As a young man in his late teens in the early 1930's he hopped on his Indian motorcycle, leaving behind the small-town farming environment of western Illinois for the towering timbers of north-central Minnesota. He had relatives who lived in what was then still a fairly remote part of Minnesota, and when he could leave his hometown he did. His parents were, from all I knew of them, doting, adoring, affirming parents. They had two sons, the oldest of whom was my grandfather, and in their eyes he could do no wrong.

He had a tendency to be belligerent, cocky and sarcastic. His work style preference was seasonal work (non-snow months in Minnesota) during which he would work hard for pay and then spend winters doing what he wanted, which included, at various stages in his life, snowmobiling, hunting, cutting wood, motorcycling. He was not one to be told "no." He was not one to be directed. Authority structures riled up his sensibilities, and he was on perpetual guard that no one take advantage of him.

A colorful figure, I can remember spending many after school moments with grandpa. When I was too young to care he would take me with him to the local bar, where he would have a beer and I would have some kind of pop and a snack of sorts. Although I did not understand it at the time, he readily flirted with and occasionally propositioned the women we would encounter in stores or other social locations. He seemed to enjoy the process, although I am not sure how far the process ever went. I have heard intimations and seen raised eyebrows, but I've never felt the need to do much verification.

Because for me he was my grandfather. He was the guy who prized me because I was his firstborn grandson, born to one of the four daughters whom he worked most closely with. My mother, an early feminist in her own right in an isolated community of snow, logs and lakes, is no less defiant than her father before her. My mother was smoking corn-cob pipes as an older teenager that were only "appropriate" for males, wearing pants in an era when dresses or skirts were socially the required dress of young women. My mother worked with her father for years on the tractor, in the hay field, in the woods, cutting, splitting, piling and selling firewood.

And my mother is not one to be told what to do. She has a fairly clear vision of life and her role in it, and she is not unwilling to share it, although she is not much of a nagger. It is from her that I have learned over the years the value of being true to my personal values, whether others agree or not. To speak one's mind authentically and clearly is a virtue that has come to me from my long line of defiance.

And then there's me. At least a third generation of defiance, and a conundrum at that. How likely is it that a naturally defiant person would function in a vocation (clergy) so often characterized by status quo, tradition, consistency, inflexibility? Perhaps that has been part of the "call" for me. To serve within a context that has so much potential ripe for personal transformation if only some of the dead layers of institutionalism could be stripped away. It is, I suppose, one of my daily missions as a pastor ... to discover the depth and majesty of a Creator who chooses to connect to humans, who in our nature are oppositional, defiant, self-centered.

No surprise, then, that the fourth generation of my family line (although not genetically a reflection of my experience, quite close emotionally to my history) is blessed with defiance. I say "blessed with defiance" because children who grow into adults who can transform natural contrariness into social justice or mercy or care for creation or simply care for neighbor are what the world desperately needs.

Our world needs fewer passive, self-centered, uninvolved blobs who are complicit in the decline of our humanity. We need more defiance ... defiance that rails against inequality, injustice and human suffering. If only I can help shape the natural tendency of so many of my children into something that is transformative, I will consider my life's work a success.

So, here I stand. Another defiant from a long line of defiance whose history will continue for at least one more generation forward. I hope my grandfather, who never had the opportunity to know any of my children, might smile with that glint in his eye, proud that his firstborn grandson carries forward the family tradition.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Thing a Parent Cannot Do

Compared to the stories of many parents (and adoptive parents in particular), I really should be grateful, but a current acrimonious situation with our oldest son reminds me that there is at least one thing a parent cannot do. (I'm sure there is more than one thing, but for tonight it's the one thing I know for certain).

I know that parents cannot choose for their children the way they will choose to live their life.

It's a mystery, really. Parenting is something of a mystery wrapped in a cunundrum (or however that old saying whose origin I cannot now place says it). Parents do their best for their kids. In spite of our human flaws and frailties and dysfunctions we really want what is best for our kids.

Sometimes it is because we ourselves have learned the hard way, and we want to protect our kids from making an equally disastrous choice. And there are times when our children venture in a direction unknown to us by experience, so we wonder because it's strange territory. It could be for some parents whose spiritual or moral foundations are clear and sound that a son's or daughter's moving beyond those bounds creates a sense of angst or despair.

So what is a parent to do? Society tells parents that we need to raise our children well so that they will be productive contributors, not takers. Communities of faith urge parents to be responsible for the moral formation of their kids. Law enforcement wants us to believe that parents who care about their kids will not see their son or daughter behind bars.

But one thing a parent cannot do is to choose the way of life their child is going to live.

While the child is living in the home the parents have more suasion that when the child is out of the house, to be sure. But while the son or daughter matures and discovers new ways of being, the parent is pretty much who she or he is. Parents typically do not change much in the course of their parenting careers, which is a good thing. Kids need stability and consistency in the life of a parent. (This is not to say, of course, that parents do not change or grow in the process, because certainly we do, and certainly we need to). But parents do not have the luxury of sudden, dramatic changes in life on the whim. There is simply too much invested in the adult life journey to be that carefree (or is it careless?). Parenting can be serious business, perhaps too serious at times.

Proponents of family systems theory believe that one of the ways to handle difficult times with children (or others) is to move away from a "serious family system" to one that embraces some levity and some paradox. I'm giving that a try with frustrating parenting situations I find myself in.

To place responsibility for personal choice squarely in the lap of the child (in the case of parenting situations) while remaining emotionally connected is the task. When the temptation is to cut the child off emotionally and walk away, the wise parent will find a way to be self-identified (that is, "Who am I?") The only thing a parent can do in many situations is to decide who she or he will be. We cannot decide who our child will be. That is a choice only they can make.

When we choose to deposit personal responsibility with our children (especially our adult children) we may find for ourselves a modicum of emotional liberty as well. Too often that emotional liberty feels like abandonment or careless disregard. It is a tricky thing to be the parent while allowing your child (of whatever age) to be the person he or she thinks they need to be. To do this and continue to maintain an emotional connection is certainly challenging.

Like I said before, I should be grateful. Our oldest son, who is now 21, still talks to me, as he always has, with varying degrees of closeness over the years. He respects my way of life, he believes he has good parents who are doing the right thing in the world. He's just not sure he's quite that person.

And so I am preparing to venture into an experiment of sorts. The one thing I cannot do is decide for him what or who he will be. But I can love him, I can place responsibility for his choices squarely with him, and I can choose not to cut him off emotionally, even if that's a choice he makes for himself.

As I reflect on what I've written here, I recognize it is a bit disjointed (certainly not my best piece of writing), but I think it accurately represents my current interior meanderings, so chalk one up for authenticity ... even if clarity and precision are lacking.