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H and G
Learning from 'Sleepless in Seattle'
You remember it, don’t you?
The scene in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, when Tom Hanks’ character Sam Baldwin comes home from work in the afternoon to find his son Jonah in his room, listening to records with his friend Jessica, played by Gaby Hoffmann?
You don’t? Well then, let me refresh your memory.
The scene begins with Hanks coming home late in the afternoon to his houseboat on the banks of Seattle’s Lake Union. He looks around but can’t find Jonah, and eventually walks up to his room, where he meets Jessica for the first time.
There, she and Jonah are sitting in an over-sized, egg-shaped chair. She waves wordlessly, prompting Jonah to tell him what they’ve discovered playing Beatles records backward.
“Dad, this is amazing,” Jonah says. “If you play this backwards, it says ‘Paul is dead.’”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Hanks replies, still a little stunned at the sight of his eight-year-old son who apparently now has a girlfriend.
With a quizzical look on his face, Jonah asks, “how do you know?”
An uneasy pause hangs in the air; Jonah asks his dad to close his bedroom door, to which Jessica decides to tell him one last thing on his way out.
“H and G,” she says.
Hanks cocks his head, looking puzzled at what he’s just heard.
“Hi and goodbye,” Jessica adds — with a tone every parent of an eight- or nine-year-old knows all too well! — as she and Jonah paddle their feet to swivel their chair back around.
Why did this scene come rushing back to my mind this week, you might ask?
Maybe it’s because my 9-year-old — whom I’ve been building a Lego Millennium Falcon with since the holidays, whose 2nd- and 3rd-grade basketball team I’ve been coaching, who I just watched the Star Wars sequels with recently — told me something I wasn’t expecting the other day.
“Hey Dad,” he said one day near the end of last week, when I picked him up from school. “A friend named Sally is going to call me, you just have to okay it, okay?”
He meant she was going to reach out to him by text on our iPad; our parental controls make it so I have to okay anyone he communicates with.
“Sure,” I said, “No problem.”
Of course, I wasn’t thinking anything beyond that she might be someone who liked video games like he does. I didn’t think anything of it, until he mentioned it again a little later.
“Hey Dad,” he said, “my friend is going to message me, okay? I just wanted you to know.”
Again, I’m oblivious, not thinking anything out of the ordinary. “Sure,” I tell him. “Sure.” And I go on about my day.
The next morning arrives, and little T mentions it to me again, this time on the way to school. “Hey Dad, I just wanted you to know,” he begins, just like last time. “My friend is going to reach out, and I just wanted you to know who she was.”
Okay, I think to myself. He seems awfully concerned that I’m okay with this… but it couldn’t be, could it? He’s just nine and a half years old. C’mon, that’s crazy. I’ll tell my wife and we’ll both get a big kick out of this. “Liking” someone at this age, I get. But “like-liking” someone? Not even possible, right?
Friends, it turns out it’s possible.
Yesterday, I visited my son’s school for lunch with a friend of mine who works there, of course timing my visit so we might catch a glimpse of my son when he’s at lunch with his friends.
When we walked in, from across the room I could spot him, wearing his red Georgia Bulldogs sweatshirt. And sitting next to him at his lunch table? His new friend that he told me about, alongside a few of her friends.
“Hey Dad,” he said when he saw me, though the look on his face told me he’d actually rather I give him a little space. Which course made me want to linger and chit-chat with his friends 🤣, though I didn’t stay for long.
I did, however, stay just long enough to hear one of the girls at the table tell me this: “T has a girlfriend!”
Well, okay, there it is, I thought to myself. I guess we’re in this phase now.
As I sat down to lunch with my friend, every now and then I turned my head to look over my shoulder, to see how he was interacting with his friends from school. Are they nice to him? Is everyone treating him okay? Is anyone mean to him? You wonder these things when you’re a parent, you know?
And actually, he was… fine. Great, even. He got up every now and then to talk to kids from another table, then came back to sit with his new “friend.”
That’s when it dawned on me: he’s starting to have his own life now, with his own people in it. His mom and I are (obviously!) still really, really important, but the gravitational center of his life has to started to shift, just a little.
A few years ago, I wrote about a poem by the painter and poet Kahlil Gibran, whose 1923 book The Prophet is probably his most famous work of writing. Among his meditations on love, friendship and intimacy is this poem on childhood, which still gets me right in the heart:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
We were all children once; each of us were, in our own ways, “the arrow that flies.” Now, it’s my turn to be “the bow that is stable,” and try to be glad as my children “go swift and far,” toward a place I “cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”
The reason I run now — in addition to enjoying it — is so that I can stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible, so I can get to see and enjoy as much of their lives as I can. Even as they’ve already started to fly away from the nest, just a little.
I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend and get a great run in out there — as always, let me know how your running/life is going, and keep in touch!
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