I have found that the hardest part of parenting is dealing with my fear. My fear for my kids about all of the terrible things that can happen in the world in the blink of an eye. I have found that this element of parenting does not get easier as one’s kids get older. In fact, it seems that my fear for them has mounted through their teen years as they have moved further out into the world.
Last night, for example, my son, who is 20, spent the night drawing on the sidewalks of Toronto as part of an ad campaign to re-format a weekly newspaper. While he was excited about the opportunity as an artist and the experience of staying up all night on the streets of a big city, I was worrying about him being mugged or worse.
I expect that fear for one’s kids is a normal part of the parenting experience, but I know that my fear has an edge of hysteria that was born in the loss of my friend, Rick Millar, many years ago. Rick was part of the “gang” I hung out with in high school. My sister, our two girl friends, and I, hung out with Rick and his three boy friends through high school. Rick was the glue between these two groups of friends. The son of an extraordinary woman, Rick was comfortable with both girls and boys; something that was rare in our generation.
I was a shy kid. Raised in a family of girls, I was particularly shy with boys who seemed like an alien species to me. While I hung out with Rick and his friends for years, I never really felt comfortable talking with any of them. But one afternoon, I ended up alone by at the Jack Darling Park with Rick. I don’t remember how this came about but I remember the two of us sitting in a big willow tree looking out at Lake Ontario and talking for hours. We talked about nothing and everything; school, camping, what we wanted to do when we graduated from high school, his new motor cycle. For me, it was a first; a long conversation with a boy where I felt totally comfortable; totally myself. We made a pact that afternoon; we were going to buy buddy pegs for his motorcycle and he was going to introduce me to camping.
The following weekend, our “gang” of friends ended up at a party in a big home on Mississauga Road. It seemed that everyone from school was there. It was May, nearing the end of the school year, so everyone was celebrating. I left the party around 12:00. Rick, I learned later, left the party alone around 2:00 am. While crossing Mississauga road, the one and only driver on the road, clipped Rick with the mirror on his truck. I heard about this from our friends the next day. Rick was killed instantly at the age of 18, a month before graduating from high school.
That was 37 years ago but it can feel like yesterday. I remember his mom telling me later how she was so relieved when he told her that he would not take his motorcycle to the party. I remember walking through the long grass in Jack Darling Park and screaming “WHY???” to the sky; cursing God for the injustices in life. I remember long months of grief shared with Rick’s friends, mother and sister. I remember seeing life SO differently. The world, which had seemed so safe and secure, suddenly seemed dangerous and menacing. Every decision seemed heavy with potential for disaster; the smallest of decisions could have irrevocable repercussions. Life could be lost in a flash.
These feelings receded a little in my early adult years, but they were re-awakened by the birth of my son and they grew as he entered his teens. I have done battle with them. While I felt anxious about my son’s outing last night, I encouraged him to go and told him to have fun. I did my best to mask my anxiety. Life is meant to be lived. Death could be around any corner and could find us at any moment. So, we have to make the most of every day. So, I do my best to keep fear at bay. I acknowledge it, own it, and do my best to live fully. For my friend Rick. He would not want it any other way.