Kelly. Sixteen. That is a good collection of years. Almost a complete bushell. A good clump. In California, you can drive at 16. In two more years, you can vote. In 5 years, you can drink, whether your parents want you to or not.
If Mom and I are realistic, in two more years, assuming the grades stay up, California doesn't fall off into the ocean, our savings don't evaporate, you will be leaving home for college. What the heck?!
And now, at this point in life, it seems, speaking only for myself, that pretty much of the parenting work, is well, almost done. And as I look back on these years, I feel like I want to do two things. First, give thanks. Second, apologize.
Every Day a First
I had a very wise man tell me years ago that with the oldest child, in any family, the parents and the kid are "doing each day" of the growing up years for the first time. Everyday its the first time. Changing diapers, going to kindergarten, Girl Scouts, T-Ball, 5th grade graduation, first day of Middle School, all new. Softball, the Middle School musical, knee surgery, going to summer camp, every day, for the first time. High school orientation, mission trips to Mississippi and Alaska, girls water polo, the struggle of biology class, all of it for the first time. It never stops.
Kelly, you are an amazing person. Every "first day" with you has been an adventure and full of joy. For me, your name means that word - joyful! Funny, outgoing, laid back but energetic, a great friend. The girl who is always singing, unless the shower music is so loud we can't hear you (which is often). Your social life rivals that of Hollywood people, without all of their fakery. You are a great friend, and have surrounded yourself with quality people. For these things, as your Dad, I am completely, utterly, and almost without words to say it, thankful. What a ride. When you were little, and you wanted to be pushed again on the swing, or chucked on the bed in a pile of pillows .....over and over again....you would say "Go-giin!" as in lets keep it going! Now, that's what I want to say....
Just the other day, I found something that struck me, and made me think of being a Dad, and of needing to apologize:
"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."
Jesus said this, in Luke. I know now, after thinking about it, he was talking to me, as a Dad of a 16 year old. I need to "be easy on people", and there is one person in our family that I am the least easy on. You and I both know who that is.
It seems I have spent most of my adult life trying to be less like my Dad. We both also know that he is not exactly the world's warmest fellow; he was not exactly "easy on people", nor easy on me. And now, after all this time of telling myself I would not replicate his behavior, I find myself being often too critical, and far less loving to you - my "first". For these things, I ask your forgiveness. I am going to try harder in year 16, I promise. I won't stop being the Dad, but maybe I can bring less stress.
For me, the good news is we aren't done yet. You and I are not finished growing up. With God's grace, we have lots more miles to go before we are done. I am so completely excited about your future, whatever the heck it may be. There's a world out there, Kelly, and you can do and be whatever your heart desires. I can't wait to see what happens!
So now, as you turn 16, know that as always, I love you more than I can tell, I am sorry for the ways I have judged, or not listened, or not understood. Its not easy being 16. I can remember vaguely, in the fog of the past, what it was like. Trust me, I was not the picture of grace, handsomeness, poise, and generally having my stuff together. No way. And so, I hope this next year, and many years in the future find me out to be a fairly tolerable guy. Someone who listens better than he talks, who cares, and laughs often and loud. You sure can make me laugh!
Happy Birthday, girl - I love you!