The process of letting go


This weekend is an exercise in letting go.

I will be among the hundreds of parents letting go of children at high-school graduations – like thousands before me and thousands more to come.

But it’s not the first letting go of our middle son, Maxwell. The first time was 10 years ago about this same time of year.

I wonder if it sets us apart from the thousands of others?

I would hope not. Letting go then, in looking back, was a great family decision and set Max off on a life-changing path we enjoy today.

Sports is what I know most – at least as it relates to childhood activities and molding a life and a mindset. You know: Compete, win, lose, teamwork, opponents, cuts, tears, injuries, etc.

Over the years, I’ve observed kids and parents at spelling and geography bees. I’ve watched kids fall into various family businesses – however big or small they are. And I’ve seen kids follow their parents into medicine, law, policing and similar professional paths.

In those experiences, there’s a natural pondering of “what if” as you measure the experiences you see of them versus the experiences you have for you.

Again – what I knew most about what kids did was sports. After all – “It’s what I did, and if I did it, you should, too. Look what it did for me.”

Or, I think that’s how the script goes.

But for Max.

So in the spring of 2007, I had just moved here while the rest of the Frankos were in Illinois preparing to move here once school ended. The boys were in ice hockey and flag football. It was hockey that I knew most.

I can’t recall if I got the news on my way home or once I got home. And I can’t recall if the news came from Max or from my wife. But I remember the news:

Max did not want to play hockey anymore. At the age of 7, he was retiring from the sport.

I think they expected a reaction different than what came from me. (Er, what I recall coming from me.)

I had no opposition. I let him go his own way, and he never played hockey again.

My advice at the time was to the effect of: “You don’t have to play hockey. You just have to find something productive. For me, it was sports. You’ll find something for you.”

Of course, privately I was terrified because I thought, “A child finds what he is lead to, and what I knew was sports. What am I to lead him to now?”

Fast forward 10 years – from that hockey retirement to three weeks ago on the Poland Seminary High School stage.

Max had the rare opportunity to have his six-minute symphonic Opus played by 30 of his Poland Seminary High School band pals. He’d worked on it since November under the mentorship of teacher Nick Olesko. The crowd gave Max a standing ovation. Hockey never garnered me a standing ovation.

Chris Economus is a great friend, and our sons found each other at another of their dads’ sports: golf.

Max and little Chris dipped into golf together, then faded from golf together. Both found music in high school, and Chris was among the 30 playing Max’s Opus.

In a back room that night, I asked big Chris – also a huge sports nut – his take on the differences in life paths of fathers and sons.

“They’re good men, and they have good friendships. You can’t put a price tag on how important that’s going to be in life from whatever path.”

The worlds of youth sports vs. youth arts are strewn with parallels and contrasts when you’ve had the privilege of watching both.

Within both, there is personal drive, competition, teamwork and obstacles that are mental and physical. I suppose there’s a criticism here of me that I might not had previously seen this in arts. But, it’s just not what I knew of childhood.

I would suggest that in the arts, there seems a less- venomous streak from the sidelines with the parents. It’s there, for sure. But it’s less overt. I think it’s no coincidence that such a parental peace exists due to a process and format that restricts and relegates parent participation.

Parents’ noses are not pressed up against the glass of the band room watching practice.

It’s mostly impossible for a parent to watch band video and point out how the percussion player next to you should have struck the baton.

A mom does not stand up in the concert crowd and yell for her son to strum harder.

Assignments to fourth chair or fifth chair seem less painful than sports cuts and second-string assignments.

How either arena prepares a child for life, I think now, is indifferent – and that is likely a surprise to hard-core sports parents.

On a college tour this fall in a room of music majors’ parents, there were fears from some of “What will my son do with a trumpet degree?” A dad spoke up and offered this: He works for a tech company. They spent thousands of dollars and hours researching from what fields come the most trainable minds for what their industry does and needs. The results of that research? They are recruiting music majors.

So this weekend, we let go. Again.

It’s a good feeling.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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