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
    worth it?

    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
    storybook childhoods.

    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)