May 7, 2009

Time | A Milestone Event

I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
She's just like a maze
Where all of the walls continually change
I've done all I can. I’ve done the best I can.
Now it’s up to her – (John Mayer wrote some of this!)

My daughter Lauren graduates from college today. Her degree comes from the journalism school. From the time she could write, she’s pretty much done nothing but write. Filling journal after journal with messages of hope, life, love, despair, boys, girls, and, of course, fashion. Lauren is famous for her two-page notes on Birthday cards, and her “My life is an open book, read my Blog,” attitude.

On the occasion of her graduation from College, it occurred to me I ought to write her something. And it ought to be lengthy. After all, I’ve also taught her “What goes around comes around.”

Lauren is my oldest child, so she is the first to graduate from college. The first to officially “leave the nest.” The first to “spread her wings and fly.” The first to…… How corny all this stuff sounds now. What I really want to do is take some time to express some of the feelings I have on this auspicious occasion. Maybe this post is really for me. As I start to type it feels a bit cathartic.

To my core, I believe the words sung by Whitney Houston and others reminding us "the children are our future teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they posses inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier." I've tried to do this. This is a message I have given to Lauren all her life. I told her "never to walk in anyone's shadow. If she fails, if she succeeds, at least she'll live as she believed." I've told her "no matter what the world may take from her it can't take away her dignity." most importantly I told her to learn to love herself as that's the greatest love of all. To be perfectly honest, from a fatherly non-biased objective point of view,I’ve got to say this: She listened to what I said, even if I said it many many times, and she became exactly the young woman I knew she could become. My pride for her today, and always, is balanced by my tremendous love for her, and my awe and respect for the young woman she has become.

As a young child I could tell what kind of person Lauren would become. When she reached the age of the “Allowance” we had a deal. She was given three envelopes. Envelope number one was for Lauren. Envelope number two was for savings. Envelope number three was for charity. Yes, we negotiated a bit over what percentage of her allowance would be placed in each envelope, but once it was decided, that was it. Then, each envelope had to be decorated with hearts and flowers, shapes and colors.

Every week the envelopes would come out and the allowance would be divided up into each of the three envelopes. Every couple of months we would take a trip to the bank to make a deposit. A couple times a year, we would sit down and I’d ask where her charity money would go. She gave money to the summer camp she attended and to the Dumb Friends League. But I’ll never forget the day when she said she wanted to send $125 to an organization she had learned of that helped women who had been in abusive relationships. And, I’ll never forget the day she called to tell me the president of the organization called to thank her. She couldn’t have been happier to have helped someone else.

Then there was the time, and this was recently, she gave money to an organization and then asked them if she could volunteer some of her precious time working at their office. She used the Spanish she had studied for eight years, to help others and to help the charity be more effective with its clientele. She had become the person I knew she would become. Charity, in its truest sense, had become a part of her life and that made me very proud.

I grew up with a brother. As Lauren entered her teenage years I heard on many an occasion, from many different people, that I had no idea what was about to happen. “You are not prepared for the transformation about to occur,” they would say. Everyone also told me in the end, on the other side of it all; she would come out of “this” just like all the women before her. “Eventually,” they said, “She will return to this planet.”

Those years were exactly as I expected them to be. During her middle school years Lauren dealt with the competitive girl friend situations I expected and the boyfriend issues too. She was as fickle as they come. There was a different boy every couple weeks or sometimes every couple months. Every single one of them was the one “who treated me better than anyone else ever did.” At least for that week or two. She dealt with most of the teenage anxiety with grace, and lots of tears, always living up to her title “The Drama Queen.”

In high school, the girl friend issues subsided a bit, but the boyfriend issues magnified, just as I expected. In high school though, the young woman I knew was inside her began to emerge. Lauren began to develop her work ethic. When she got her first job, she threw herself into it. She was the model employee. She was dedicated, and she truly loved what she did. When I watched her work birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese’s I marveled at her poise as well as her ability to handle the noise, the music, and the chaos around her. She was so successful at her next job; they transferred her to a restaurant near her college so they wouldn’t lose her. Everywhere she worked, she left her mark, and it was a mark others were compelled to live up to.

While juggling the complexities of being a teenager, and holding down a job, Lauren also developed her heart. Whether it was doing something for someone else, or just hanging with her family, Lauren constantly showed what a loving person and daughter she had become. She always made time for me. There was always time to share with me what was going on in her life. She easily shared the “dramas” she was dealing with, as well as the happy times. People always told me how lucky I was to have such a close loving relationship with Lauren. From our annual fishing trips, to our shopping for bras, to our walk through the condom aisle in Walgreen's before she went off to college, she always made time for me and made me feel like I had a special place in her life. I will always treasure those times. Especially the talks at night while cuddling on her bed, and the fishing trips where we would have three or four days to ourselves and she would always, and I mean always, catch three or four times the number of fish I would catch. She was, and is, a natural when it comes to fly fishing.

Now we are at another milestone in her life. I milestone I haven’t stopped crying about for about the last three months. Maybe longer. Now it’s time to see what’s next. Where will she go from here? What will she do? The only thing I know for sure is that she will be fine. She will be a success at whatever she does. She will be confident in herself and her abilities. She will continue to love herself and the people around her. She will be LAUREN, and that’s all I ever wanted for her.

While I have the floor, and even though it is redundant, I want to tell her the following:

Keep on sending Tweets, writing your blog, keeping your journals. You have an incredible talent that is sure to take you places neither of us have ever dreamed of.

Today you will graduate from college and a part of your life will be over. Up until now, I have guided you and protected you. I held your hand while you learned to walk and jogged beside you when you learned to ride a bike. I watched while you test your wings with a car of your own and a job. As you step out into the world, there are things I’m sure I have told you more than once, but I wouldn’t be doing my fatherly duty if I didn’t tell you again. Follow your dreams, especially now while you are young and you can. Life has a tendency to get in the way of our dreams so you need to take advantage of every moment.

Always pay yourself first. Put as much money into savings as you can and leave it there until you have enough to live on for 6 months or so. You will never be sorry Thank your grandmother for starting your retirement fund early, and don’t touch it except to add to it. If you go to work for a company that matches your contributions, take advantage of it, even if your paycheck seems smaller.

Be wary of credit cards. They are too easy to get and too hard to pay off. If you have to buy it on credit, you probably can’t afford it anyway and most likely don’t need it. If you use credit cards regularly, you will pay many times for the same item. Save buying on credit for two major purchases, a car and a house.

Invest your money in things you understand, not things people tell you to invest in. If you don’t understand it, then either educate yourself or find something you do understand. This understanding will help you decide when to invest, when to hold and when to sell.

Find a job doing something you love to do. You spend most of your life at work; it helps to enjoy what you are doing. While making a lot of money is great, doing something you enjoy and are good at will bring you more satisfaction in the long run so try to find a balance between being a starving writer and an overstressed CEO.

Keep an emergency savings account. In a perfect world, this would be enough to support you for 6 months but it can be as little as the $1000 I’ve asked you to keep on hand for the past several years. The emergency fund’s purpose is to pay for emergencies. I know you are saying “duh, Dad” but you have to understand an emergency is not the concert tickets you can get at the last minute or for those cute shoes you just have to have to go with your new dress. It is for things like when the car breaks down and you can’t get to work without it.

When you find that special person, make sure they are someone who will support and respect you. Hopefully, you will find someone with similar goals to yours, both financial and life goals. While love is grand, if the support, respect and common goals aren’t there, love loses out at worst, and at best your life will be a struggle.

Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. You are smart enough to do anything you want to do; you just have to make up your mind you are going to do it. Don’t let anyone beat you down. Don’t settle for second best, you deserve the best of the best. And remember always that I love you and you always have a place to come home to.

Like I said, all this is redundant. It’s the same stuff I’ve been saying since she was old enough to understand.

I find it amusing that a graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that "individuality" is the key to success. This is a lesson Lauren has learned well. There is a good reason they call these ceremonies "commencement exercises." Graduation is not the end; it's the beginning. I think she knows this to, though it all seems a bit scary right now. Most importantly, as I found out just in the last week, Lauren is aware her family is extremely proud of her. She understands the sense of relief we are experiencing, and now is an opportune time to ask for money.

Okay, so there’s the attempt at humor to mask my true feelings and the tears that don’t seem to be subsiding. Really, all I need to say to Lauren is “I LOVE YOU, and I’m so very PROUD of you.” But I say this to her all the time and saying it isn’t nearly as cathartic as writing all this was.
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TheBAFSignal by Bradley A. Friedman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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