jayda’s giant steps

now playing: craig bickhardt, “giant steps”

we all mark our lives in milestones, whether we realize – or acknowledge – it or not.

tomorrow will be one of those…tomorrow, my oldest, my first – jayda – will graduate from high school. she’ll put on the cap and gown and walk up and receive a piece of paper that signifies satisfactory completion of twelve years of education.

i have videotape of jayda walking up the ramp at her preschool with her backpack, turning and waving…her short blond hair cut in bangs over her big brown eyes…but i think that even without the visual reminder, that moment would still be fresh in my mind. so many of them are.

i know that jayda would say that i have a brain like a collander, that i forget things like names of her friends, her work schedule…details of her present-day life. and that’s true…in her late teen years, we’ve grown apart. it’s not the kind of thing that you blame one person or the other for, although i’m sure we’d both point to markedly different reasons for it.

mom and i split up when jayda was seven and dylan was five…that was eleven years ago this month. in the time since, i’ve stayed here in reading – against conventional wisdom and my own wishes – to be close to them. i can’t really quantify what i might have sacrificed in order to do so, because to venture into that conjecture is essentially to start compiling a list of what-if’s and if-i’d-onlys…

and in essence, there are just as many of those kinds of statements that could be compiled if i were to ask myself what might have been had i stuck it out with their mother and turned my back on my gifts and what i consider to be my profession and calling.

for some years, i actually did just that – i turned my back on whatever talents i might have had as a songwriter, got out of the business altogether, and played in a cover band. i’ve never really regretted that, because my chops got a lot better and i was able to have my cake and eat it too, or so i thought…but the thing is, there really is no challenge as daunting in life as trying to maintain a role as a parent when you sleep under a different roof than your children more often than not.

in my heart of hearts, i know what would have happened if i’d stayed…i’d have become bitter, miserable, and insufferable, and i would have blamed them and their mother for my own failure to follow my path. if i allow myself to be absolutely truthful to myself, i know that i did the right thing in taking myself out of that situation…because i’d have been no good to them if i’d become the person i know i would’ve become if i’d stayed.

and, conversely, if i decided to beat myself up about the choice i made in selecting a partner (which, it has to be said, is a beating i truly deserve), then i have to accept the by-product of that particular “what if” as there being no jayda and dylan.

everything happens for a reason, truly.

yet, i feel the passage of time so deeply of late…the last year or so in particular…and i can’t help but second guess my every twist and turn, sometimes.

the bottom line is that there really is no having your cake and eating it, too. everything that’s important in this life involves a choice of some sort. every time we find ourselves at a crossroads, we have to choose a path. you can’t go in two directions at once, thus you have to go either one way or the other.

i believed otherwise for a long time.

i really thought that i could choose this path, as a musician, and still be involved in my children’s lives to (what i felt was) the proper extent. i mean, maybe all parents look back at the trajectory of their lives when they arrive here and are convinced, as i am, that they fell far short of where they should have – where their involvement in their children’s lives are concerned. i’m sure that all parents experience this to a certain extent.

i just can’t be convinced otherwise right now, though, and i doubt you’d find any support for an opposing argument from dylan or jayda…although we haven’t really had that conversation.

it’s my cross to bear…the manner in which i’ve handled my responsibility as a parent. for years, i truly believed that i was keeping close enough to be involved in their lives…i went to school functions, i showed up where i was supposed to, i did laundry and made dinner, we stayed up late and watched TV, we did homework at a table in the food court at the mall – and called it “mallwork”.

but, you know, the bottom line is that if you weren’t raised by parents, you don’t know how to parent. my dad was a phantom by the time i was eight, and my mom did the best she could, but i sure do see a lot of her in the way that her defeatist attitude permeates some of my parenting moments…when i should be cowboying up, i tend to shrink and sidestep and wallow in my own guilt over my own perceived abandonment of my role…and feel as often as not that i’m not deserving of whatever role i might play as a parent in their lives.

they say that hindsight is 20/20…and i tend to trust that. results speak louder than assumption and conjecture. and the tentative, polite relationships that we currently have – at times – speak for themselves.

these days, as i look at my children who are no longer children at ages 18 and 16, our worlds are a much different place than they were when we sat at the food court and worked on homework. conversely, i look around myself at my friends in my line of work who are parents…folks who held it together, like blake allen or craig bickhardt or jd malone or skip denenbergdan may as well…or people like lisa schaffer and the way they handle their roles as parents in similar situations to my own, and i can see, plain as day, that i got it wrong.

taking the path that i’ve taken has had its rewards, but it took my eye off the ball.

again, everything important in this life seems to involve a trade-off of some sort.

it’s very obvious to me, as i look around my life nowadays, that i’ve forged a nice, comfortable, respectable niche for myself as a musician. i’ve worked my ass off to do it, and while i’m not a household name by any stretch, i’ve done very well for myself. i play with people i respect, i enjoy my work, and my life looks pretty good from the outside. i know. i hear it from time to time from people.

i’m haunted, though, by stevie nicks’ words in that interview – “everyone i know is sorry for something.”

and my thinly-estranged relationship with my children will be my cross to bear…and the realization of such comes at a point when it feels like it’s too late to do anything about it.

the rewards from the life i’ve chosen, though, sometimes buffer the coldness of that reality, and justify – even if only for a moment – the choices i’ve made.

in my current frame of mind, my blessing this week has come in the form of a song.

the song noted prior to this entry – “giant steps” by craig bickhardt – was written by craig for his son, jake when jake was much younger. i won’t retell craig’s story, because he’s done an excellent job of telling it himself here…but it’s a beautiful glimpse of pure parental love from a father to his son…

….”You’re just a little boy clinging to your father’s hand
Your legs are working hard keeping up with your old man
And it gives you a feeling you can’t explain
To you this big old world is just a game
Taking giant steps, giant steps
A leap and a bound barely touching the ground
Time to stretch those wings, try new things
Learning to reach for your best
Taking giant steps….”

and twelve years ago, craig had the foresight to see a time, down the road, when his son would rise up to the challenge of the world and that he’d watch from the sidelines as he took his place in the world and grew into his own:

….”Soon the day will come when you’ll run ahead of me
Certain of yourself and what you’re gonna be
But when ever you stumble and lose your stride
Never lose the boy down inside
Taking giant steps, giant steps
A leap and a bound barely touching the ground
Time to stretch those wings, try new things
Learning to reach for your best
Taking giant steps…”

as i’ve listened to this song – over and over – i realize that it’s not a matter of having chosen the wrong path. others have walked the path i’m on and have faced down the challenges of being a parent and have mustered the necessary strength to do the right thing. it’s not a matter of having chosen the wrong path. this is exactly where i’m supposed to be. i don’t know how to do anything else in a manner that gives me cause to get out of bed every day.

i’m blessed to be a part of the circles in which i walk…this song that craig has given to the world is so beautiful and intimate, and yet the timing of its surfacing makes it feel as if it was a gift to me, personally. that’s the power of a great song, that’s inspired from such a place of pure love…it transcends time and situational specifics and the things that might inform inspiration and it speaks to those who are fortunate enough to hear it in a way that goes straight to the heart of their own personal experience.

at a moment like this, sitting here and listening to this song, i know that i chose the right path. this knowledge doesn’t erase the regret that i have regarding the passage of time and the manner in which i’ve allowed opportunities to create memories with jayda and dylan come and go….but i know that i’m in the place in my life that i’m supposed to be.

tomorrow, i’ll sit and try to remain composed as i watch my daughter take her giant steps from one chapter of her life into the next – full of simultaneous pride and regret and love and sadness. i’ll hope, too, that there’ll come a day when she realizes that i did the best i could with what i had to work with at the time, and that through whatever choices i’ve made over the years, that she has been my inspiration and my reason for staying put and doing the best i could to be a part of her – of their – lives.

(“giant steps” by craig bickhardt – copyright 1994, 2008 Almo Music Corp, Craig Bickhardt ASCAP, all rights administered by Universal Music)

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