USA Today, June 18, 2013
Honoring children upon graduation
A father reflects on his life with his daughters as they graduate.
By Bruce Kluger
I recently got into a debate with
a friend of mine over a remark
I’d made, mostly in passing.
“My kids are my life,” I said.
My friend, who is childless,
argued that parents these days
often sacrifice too much of their
own lives in pursuit of the
impossible: perfect child-rearing.
She also pin-pointedly noted
that kids are more durable than
we give them credit for and could survive a little less attention—and, perhaps, a few
more bumps—along the way.
It was a fair argument, and I might have agreed with her had our phone
conversation not been cut short. That’s because my daughters, 17 and 14, have
unapologetically co-opted my grown-up time lately—two graduations (one high
school, one middle school), two school plays, two proms—and I had to hang up mid-
debate. Had we been in a courtroom, my friend could have easily rested her case.
Across America this month, parents are once again attending cap-and-gown
ceremonies as they escort their children another click down the road that will one
day lead them out of our lives. And once again I have to ask myself, has it all been
Granted, my case is complicated. My children have grown up on this page—I’ve
written about them since birth—so I’m frequently torn between being Dad and
documentarian, weighing their personal growth against the larger backdrop of our
culture. In 2004, I wrote about Bridgette’s heated face-off with her fourth grade
classmate over her gay uncle’s right to live his life without discrimination. Three
years later, I wrote about Audrey’s pre-school “boyfriend,” and how she perceived
their different skin colors—or, more accurately, didn’t register it. And I’ve chronicled
how both girls have absorbed seismic events in our nation’s ongoing story and, like
all children, integrated them into their lives with a kind of coloring-book precision.
How they once tempered the tension of airport security by turning it into a backyard
game, Bridgette wielding a toy flute and pretending to scan her kid sister’s body for
How they participated in an anti-war march, paying closer attention to the colorful
and clever slogans on the protestors’ placards than to the angry invective being
spit by the mob at the opposite end of the parade route.
And how both of them distilled the nightmarish notion that, yes, strange men in jets
could slam into their city, their place of birth, and set fire to the gilded pages of their
Indeed September 11 added one more blanket of darkness to the anxiety that
settles on all children at night, when the lights go out and the fears creep in. And
yet both of my girls surfaced from that awful day with grace. They lit candles at
neighborhood memorials. They drew pictures and wrote letters. They lived through
the event rather than around it.
And so it is nearly inconceivable to me that in just three months I’ll be sending
Bridgette off to college. Wasn’t it just last week that I held her in my arms in the
nursery rocker, softly singing House at Pooh Corner to her? The breadth of this
astounding passage broadsided me last month when I watched her perform the role
of Emily in her school production of Our Town. I wept during her final monologue,
when Emily, having died young, returns to her childhood home as a ghost and
confronts her mother.
“Oh, Mama,” she sobs, “just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.
Do human beings ever realize life while they live it, every minute?” And all I could
picture was Bridgey in her crib. And Audrey taking her first step. And both of them
blowing out candles on their birthday cakes. And I had to ask myself: Did I really
see it all while it was happening? Did I get every minute?
I suppose my friend was right. If I calculated the fleeting opportunities I’ve failed to
seize these past 18 years—from a second honeymoon with my wife, sans kids, to
the countless career openings that have flashed before me and then vanished, like
pop-up internet ads—the rewards I passed up would be staggering. But I’d like to
think I got something more valuable in return.
Happy graduation, Bridgette. Happy graduation, Audrey. For all the teen drama and
shouting over messy rooms and violated curfews—and all that damn nail polish on
my expensive sofa—you are, and will remain, my life.
(Photograph by Marty Toub)