I had no trouble spotting our son as he walked down the aisle at his high school graduation this month, though I wondered if he’d be able to look up in the bleachers and see me.
I was easy enough to find — a pudgy bald man with the same set of binoculars I’ve had more than two decades now.
My wife gave them to me one Christmas, not long before I became a father for the first time. They seemed to promise a chance for sustained attention, though I sensed that parenthood would leave little time for that.
The binoculars were a gift to watch birds, but I’ve used them almost as much over the years to see our children at big school events. They’ve made the distance between my kids and me appear to collapse, even when my daughter and son were at the far end of a gym or auditorium. Seeing them through a lens also created the pleasant illusion of time held still.
But a parent’s years move on, until you find yourself in a coliseum as the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” tell you that the child you’ve been raising is now an adult.
British composer Edward Elgar apparently didn’t have commencement in mind when he wrote “Pomp and Circumstance” more than a century ago. Whatever his intent, he couldn’t have crafted a better tune for sending graduates on their way. The stately tempo creates a sense of time progressing at an orderly pace, which is how we like to think life moves even though it doesn’t. Any parent who watches a child get a diploma is struck by the more obvious reality — that the flow of years bringing you to this moment has been a bit of a jumble. There are anxious points when you assume that getting a child to the finish line will never end, then other days when you wonder how it all happened so quickly.
“Pomp and Circumstance” offers another assurance, its repetitive melody suggesting that life is a circle, that what goes away eventually returns.
With any luck, you learn not to fight the distance now dividing you from the familiar face in the cap and gown. The job of parenting, you’ve slowly grasped, is to enable a son or daughter to thrive farther away from you.
“Children let go of your hand,” writer Barbra Holland once wisely observed, “and go over to stand with their own generation.”
Her words appear in “Mother’s Day,” a small book about parenthood I once thought too short for its subject. These days, though, I’m thinking Holland got it about right. For all its trials and triumphs, the privilege of raising a child doesn’t really last long.
Or so it occurred to me as I put my binoculars aside to watch my son graduate. There was no use looking through them since my eyes were too wet.