To Bend without Breaking

Child Number Two (18 years old) has decided on a career in skydiving. Yes, that’s right – skydiving. What began as our birthday gift of a tandem jump (after much pestering by him), has developed into a full-blown obsession and now a serious work option.

How do his mother and I feel about it? I think you could answer that question for yourself. How would you feel about it?

If someone asked me, you have two options. You can parachute from a plane or die, I would choose death. Nothing terrifies me more than falling from a great height. Thankfully, that is a choice I will never have to make. Instead, all I need to worry about is the fact that my only son is choosing to do this, as often as he can, and on a daily basis…and there is little his mother or I can do about it.

Where has this boy come from? I read books. His mother gardens. Neither of us would fly in a light plane, let alone jump out of a perfectly functioning one. I am at once in awe and trepidation for him. Why can’t he just read books like I do?

Why? Because he is not me. And to be honest, I am glad he is not.

Sure, I wish he loved books on history, politics and theology like I do. But he doesn’t. And I have had to make my peace with that and encourage him, or at least guide him, as best I can to make good decisions within the bounds of his unique personality type. It is not easy letting go of the desire to create a child in your own image, but to persist in the opposite is to court disaster, resentment and possible estrangement.

As parents we all have regrets about things we wanted to do but never did or never had the opportunity to do, or about the chances that we somehow let slip away. But one of the greatest mistakes that any parent can make is to try to live out their unrealised dreams through their children. In thirty-three years of teaching, I have seen it all too often – and it is like watching a train crash in slow motion.

To shoot an arrow straight a bow must bend. The bending strains but does not break the bow. Parents must be like a bow: stable at the core, but flexible at the ends. I have not resisted the skydiving, but I have insisted on a university education also. I have counselled him that his chosen job may not give him the earning capacity to fulfil life’s other ambitions. Further, a future partner may not be thrilled at this career choice…especially if children are involved. He has accepted he needs a back-up plan. The compromise has kept us all ‘reasonably’ happy.

Of course, safety issues remain my paramount concern. Again, as parents we have had to weigh this up. Would I prefer him motorbiking or rock fishing or being taught to skydive by older and wiser professionals? His safety is in fact more in jeopardy on the roads driving to the airfield.

As parents we must be wise in discerning real risks from darkly imagined ones. I am trying to teach my son measured risks so as to avoid the impetuous and impulsive ones that come more naturally and are more likely to cause him harm. I encourage you to do the same.

The whole episode has reminded me of the poem, ‘On Children’ by the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran. Part of it reads:

“You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.”

I am hoping the Great Archer will re-direct my headstrong arrow. But for now, I am hoping He only bends my bow without breaking it.

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