We expect that our children will break away from us and that’s what we want; we want them to be able to survive in this world. There are two things to remember: First, not all steps are "big" steps noted by trumpets and choirs; second, the early steps are gradual and a step in one area doesn’t mean everything else changes as well.
One of these steps occurred the other evening when I left the movies with my two sons and the elder son’s friend. The two older boys were walking ahead of me and I reached down for the younger boy’s hand as we were stepping into the parking lot. He took it for no more than four seconds and then removed it and placed it in his coat pocket like the elder boys. Likewise, he pulled his hood over his head and moved ahead to join them. My immediate response was to again take his hand but I reconsidered. I simply reminded him to continue to watch for cars and moved a little more quickly to keep a watchful pace several feet behind them.
The older boys moved apart just enough for the younger to take a place between them and just behind, accepting them into their small world. This episode was only a powerfully short ten seconds, a span in which Dad was replaced by a willingness to venture with the other guys across the dark lot. And a moment in which the middle-schoolers silently and willingly took in a first-grader into their world.
What if I had insisted that he continue to hold my hand? Embarrassment before the older boys? A reinforced sense that the only safe place in a normal environment was with his father, heightening a sense of uneasiness about the world around him? The world does require vigilance and watching out for them is one of my primary jobs as a father. But it’s a disservice to insist that the only safe place is by my side. If I don’t allow these small steps now, then the later larger steps will be more daunting than they need to be.
Later that night, the youngest asked me to cuddle with him after he went to bed and I happily obliged.