When my sixth grade daughter brought home the list of middle school activities and clubs, my eyes immediately shot to the ones I was most familiar with it. They were the ones that brought me some of my proudest childhood moments and served me best in my later years.
I not only was one of the editors of my school newspaper, but I also penned a monthly column called “Guttman”. I posed, mock-arrogantly, with my glasses in my teeth in front of a bookcase of classic novels. Playing my best heel character, I tore into whatever pop culture topic was going on at the time. From OJ Simpson to Bill Clinton, the subject matter was straight out of a mid-90s time capsule. It got people talking and my social studies teacher even based lessons around my pieces when they came out.
Perhaps even higher than that on checklist of childhood pride was the debate team. It was there that I learned how to voice my opinions, present them in an organized manner, and reach common understanding with others. There were awards and tournament victories against kids with a far more expensive education than I ever would have. Coupled with my writing, debate molded me into the person I am today.
So, it should have been easy for me to talk an 11-year-old into joining the debate team, right? Offer some contentions, refutations, rebuttals, and put it to bed. I can win this argument with my strong reasoning skills and witty banter.
Yeah. If you have an 11-year-old of your own, you’re already laughing.
I took the paper in my hand and, since I knew it was on there already, feigned excitement.
Oh! Olivia! Look! They have a debate team! You can…
I didn’t even finish the sentence before her knees buckled backwards and she melted to the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West at a waterpark. She let out the dying baby elephant sound that saws through my bones and chills me to the core.
Ughhhhh! Dadddddy! Noooooooo! Noooo! No debate! Ughhhhhh…!
I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say. So, I just continued on like I hadn’t heard any of that.
I’m just saying that…
Daddy! No! Stop! Ughhhhhh!
Her hands were holding her head as she laid on the floor in the last-place limbo-dancer position. At this point, I knew I had to cut through the whining and make a point. Any point.
Listen. First, stop whining. I’m not saying you have to do debate. I’m saying that, when I was a kid…
I know. You did debate. It was great. You learned to argue. You make points. I know. But Daddy…nooooooo! Pleeeeeeeassssse!
Stunned. I asked the last question I had.
Her answer was unexpected and jerky, but ultimately undebatable.
Debate is for children who wear slacks.
I didn’t even know what to say to that. I couldn’t argue with that because, well, we had to wear slacks. I knew that even if I convinced her to do it, the first time she had to button up a pair of smart pants, I was screwed. So I offered her the school newspaper idea and we started on a fresh round of “Daddy Nos”.
Honestly, I know that a no today doesn’t mean a no forever. She might join the team in high school or something and, when that day comes, I will be there to teach her all the subtle nuisances of Lincoln-Douglas. I can break out my awards and trophies. It will be a great day when that happens.
Or, it won’t be when it doesn’t. Whatevs.
As an adult, I’ve been very fortunate in that I was able to achieve so many of my childhood dreams, meet so many of my childhood idols, and accomplish so many of my childhood aspirations. I don’t feel unfinished by any stretch of the imagination and, if my professional journey ends tomorrow, I will be content with what I have done up until that moment.
Olivia’s dreams are her dreams. She doesn’t need to do the things that I wished I did because, to be completely honest, there’s nothing that I wish I did that didn’t. Sure, I could probably twist my brain around to find a few, but I don’t feel unfulfilled. I’m proud of myself for the things I’ve done. And I’ll be proud of her for the things she’ll do. Those two things don’t have to be the same.
All I want is for her to do what makes her happy. If she was turning down debate because she wants to spend her days laying face down in the laundry room, then I would have an issue. She doesn’t. She has passions and goals of her own. Some of them, I completely relate to. Others are more of a surprise.
Last night, while sitting on the couch in my office, she turned to me and said:
Do you know what I was doing while we were eating dinner? I was looking at the dining room and imagining how I would design it if it was my bedroom. I like to do that. Sometimes I even do that when I’m in school with my classroom. That’s the best because the rooms are so big.
I was taken aback because I have never, in my life, ever thought like that. Olivia, though, is her own person. Plucked straight from HGTV, she is constantly using design apps on her iPad and creating houses for her friends online. She has an eye that’s all her own. It’s an eye that I don’t have and an eye that, if I was steering her future through my own point of view, would never even be on my radar.
Yeah? What about my office? Have you ever done that with my office?
She looked around, began pointing out the layout aspects she liked, and then created a bedroom based on the space before her. I watched in awe. In that moment, I knew that this is who she is and, mostly likely, this is who she will be. It’s hard to really explain, but I was prouder of her in that moment of self-actualization than I ever would be if she was chasing my past glory.
I want her to be who she is and I want to be there to help her achieve the dreams that she dreams. I’ll always be proud of her if she reaches the dreams that she has herself, before anyone else’s. That’s one thing that’s never going to be up for debate.