Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Whether A Promonition, Or A Preview, I Want It

A friend of mine posted this morning, that today is one of her favorite times of the year, GRADUATION DAY! She herself has experienced this many times, as a student, as a parent, and as a leader in her community. My friend gets an extra boost on this day, because of her leadership position, actually gets to participate in the annual graduation ceremony. How cool is that? I would be remiss, if I did not mention, that her reputation locally, is that she often gets referred to as an “official school mom” of the district (for privacy, I am not mentioning the name of the district). But if there is anyone who claims to have more pride in her high school alma mater than my friend, I call bullshit.

Today is Graduation Day in that particular school district. It also happens to be the school district where my daughters attend high school. While I am happy for everyone who got through one of the most difficult school years ever imaginable, dealing with Covid19, and the fact that a graduation ceremony can be had, my true excitement is a year away. And even then, it will be two years in a row that I will get to experience a high school graduation as a parent.

I am a very sentimental person. And Graduation Day is one of those days that hits me in various directions of emotion. In 1983, I became the first one in my family, on my father’s side, to graduate from high school. But there was another issue that I had struggled with during that time, that took a bigger precedent.

My relationship with my father when I was a child, could be described as strained, at best. My parents had divorced when I was three years old. Though I occasionally saw my father, in my later youth, I would consider us estranged. As far as I was concerned, that was his choice.

But as I said, I was graduating from high school, the first one to do so on his side of the family. I knew my friends would have both of their parents at the ceremony, and while my father and I did not speak often, I honestly felt this moment could have been a turning point for us in our relationship. A demand was made by me, not a request, not a favor, not an invitation, but a demand. “Here is a ticket for graduation. Show up, or I never want to see you again.”

I had grown tired of all the disappointments from my father. I was not demanding anything unreasonable. Show some pride. Your son was graduating. An hour of your time was all that was being asked. You had done nothing but disappoint me for most of my entire childhood. This day was the biggest day of my life so far. Be there, or else.

He did not show up. He never called to congratulate me. My father lived less than ten minutes away. Not even a card.

Almost forty years later, I have many friends who have either children, or even grandchildren graduating this Spring. Several of them, are from my world of cancer survivorship, and some, who I know through the world of divorce. My news feed is filled with prom and graduation photos, a wonderful reminder of what is ahead for me next year, and the year after. Yes, I was late to the party, but now the party is just getting started.

I admire and even envy the many families that have endured all the years together, remaining whole as they celebrate this day. This is not to say that everything went smoothly, but one thing that they do not have to be concerned about, are distractions from a struggling marriage, relationship, or divorce.

The pictures are there. Friends who are divorced, but all are together, with their graduate, celebrating their big day. Each parent putting aside their differences, for the sake of their child, because graduation day is not about the parents, or their problems. The photos that I see, will last forever for their children, a happy memory they will always cherish.

My last personal experience with Graduation Day was not a memorable one for me. As a divorced parent of a teenager graduating next year, I need to make sure that this is where the similarity ends with my graduation. Up to this point, I have used my experience as an adult child of divorce, to make sure to be sensitive to the needs of my daughters. Unlike my father, who to be fair, we did make amends in adulthood, my point is to not repeat what my father did in my childhood, with the experiences of my daughters. And so far, I have done all I can to not only remain involved in their lives, but active as well. I have assisted them both with their educations, and have spent as much time with them as I could. Ironically, in spite of Covid19, I actually got to spend more time with them as a result.

But their big day will come next year, and the year after. And hopefully, I have done all the right things, not followed my father’s footsteps of my childhood, although I will likely be one emotional hot mess. It will be our turn, to show up for our daughters, just like my friends, and make the day about our daughters, because it is.

As I mentioned however, there is another group of proud parents that I celebrate this time with, those in my world of Hodgkin’s survivorship. When I first became aware of my health issues tied to my treatment past for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, it was clearly laid out for me. I will never forget what my doctor said to me, “We cannot stop the progression of what is happening. We cannot reverse what has happened. But what we can do, is do what we can to slow the progress down, to buy time. My plan is for you to be able to see your daughters graduate, get married, and one day be called ‘grandpa.'” They were barely school age at the time, so these words seemed quite aspirational for me to achieve, in no hurry for my children to become parents of course.

Many of my fellow survivors are getting to experience this annual tradition. For most, their health has held up long enough for them to do so. For several, they have now gotten to see even grandchildren graduate. I am not getting that far ahead. I am focused on reaching one milestone at a time, because I know all too well, that moment could be taken away from me with the uncertainty of my health issues. One particular friend comes to mind, who sadly did not get to see her first grandchild graduate from high school, having passed away late last year.

This time of year is a big deal for students, and it should be. It is also a great moment for parents and grandparents, and it should be. As that time approaches, I know that I have done all I can to make this day one of the most memorable for my daughters. Now I just need to wait for 2022.

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