A few weeks ago I attended my daughter’s college graduation ceremony in Boston, buoyant with pride and imbued with bittersweet recognition of how fast time is passing, irretrievable once it's gone.
It all feels so like "Rip Van Winkle" to me.
One day, my daughter is three years old and riding in her stroller and telling me, proudly, "I’m pushin’ through, Dad!" This, after I had told her often that pushing through any setback was better than whining about it.
And then, suddenly, she is 22 and walking across a stage to collect her college diploma and start the rest of her life.
She graduated summa cum laude, notching a GPA of 3.98 out of 4.0 in four years at one of the best universities in the U.S.
She studied diligently, racked up a year of experience at two world-class hospitals, and cultivated a supportive circle of friends and colleagues. She is funny, smart, responsible, and considerate, yet thick-skinned and undeterred by difficulty.
And rather than enjoy "funemployment" (joblessness) post-graduation, as Suzy Welch wrote about in The Wall Street Journal; my daughter works a part-time nursing job while studying for her licensing test, and her search for a permanent job is underway.
So, why did I spend so much time worrying whether she would be okay?
And did she thrive because of my fretfulness, or in spite of it?
Is worry wasted?
My then-wife and I adopted our daughter when she was 12 months old, picking her up in Xian, China.
We worried when we learned an infant is behind in development by one month for every month in an orphanage.
We brought in a battery of occupational, physical, and speech therapists to help her start catching up.
She caught up fast.
Then we worried about the impact on her when we split up before her third birthday.
One day, as I walked with her past the brownstone where we all had lived together months earlier, she asked me, "You used to live there with us. You don’t, anymore. How come?"
Yet it turned out that divorce made me a better dad, aware that my time with her was now more precious.
I walked her to school every morning until she finished eighth grade; she still is unaware that, on the first two mornings she walked the few blocks to school by herself, I was watching her from afar, making sure nobody kidnapped her.
My daughter slept over most Thursday and Friday nights and spent most of the day on Saturdays with me, one on one, up until her last two years of high school.
It was wonderful, and even back then, I wished I could freeze time and keep her this close, and stop her, somehow, from growing up.
Maybe I feel that even more, now.
In middle school, counselors spotted "processing problems" in the way my daughter comprehended oral instructions.
This led to more therapists and training, and all along, she worked even harder to achieve almost all A’s, which might have quelled our anxiety.
In high school, the worry was mean-girl dynamics and her posh private school, and my daughter’s just-average performance on the ACT college admission test, despite taking it five times.
What if she couldn’t get into a good university?
Ultimately she was turned down by three of them — and accepted by six others, where her test scores were trumped by her impressive service and activities: founding a mentoring program for kindergarteners at her school, bonding with her teammates on the volleyball team, playing viola in the orchestra, and volunteering at a gritty hospital emergency toom in Brooklyn, New York.
Once again, I had looked past the many good things my daughter was doing, instead anguishing over what might go wrong.
When she moved to Greece to study abroad for her first semester in college, I worried more and prayed, almost daily, something I rarely ever had done.
And so it goes, for much of my daughter’s young life.
Worries about her driving, and the risk of her going zip-gliding, and walking alone after dark, and feuding with any friend.
Now, the concern is whether she will find a good job she loves, at a salary high enough to support herself and build security. And whether she will find happiness and contentment.
No worries … but with fingers crossed.
Dennis Kneale is a writer and media strategist in New York and host of the podcast, "What's Bugging Me." Previously, he was an anchor at CNBC and at Fox Business Network, after serving as a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal and managing editor of Forbes. Read Dennis Kneale's reports — More Here.
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