General Dad (Ret.)

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It starts innocently, virtuously. "Don't go near the street, sweetie." Then, later, from where you watch beneath a big magnolia tree, "Don't put your weight on the small branches. They won't hold you." From the way that one grinned down at me when I said that, I should have known my days of being in charge were numbered.

Still, I tried to keep up. I was protector-in-chief. As they got older and more aggressively resisted my sage counsel, I became more insistent. You can't keep children safe, after all, if they don't do what you tell them to. Obedience becomes the key. One of my son Grant's friends called me "The General." I took it as a compliment.

Now my troops are all off at foreign postings: jobs, marriages, a last year in college. When I try to tell them what to do, they stop calling. The funny thing is -- and this surprises me about myself -- I've almost stopped wanting to. Maybe this is because I am so proud of the wisdom they have gained, of the smart choices I see them making. There is that, certainly. But something more is at play.

My children are my friends now. I don't tell my friends what to do. I listen to them. If they ask what I think, I tell them, but cautiously, guardedly. It's almost like I've become afraid to influence them. They have to live with their choices, so they have to make them. What might be good for me might not be best for them.

I wonder what that boyhood friend of Grant's would think of me now. I imagine he would shake his head at my new-found reticence and pat me on the head they way one does an old dog with no teeth. He and Grant might sit out on the porch talking about old times while I nap in the sun, whimpering and kicking my legs as I dream of children I have chased.


With a Perspective, I'm Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton lives in Palo Alto.