Adults err. Bill Clinton, the president of the most powerful nation on Earth, did. So did Mandela, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - Google the words “Let your children make mistakes” and you get 120 million references. So it clearly wasn’t a novel thought I had this week.
Parents regularly face very difficult decisions. And, at the heart of them, often, is this tussle: do I say “I’m the parent. I will decide”?
Or do I say “I’ve raised you to be independent, brave, strong and true. I trust you. Think carefully, decide, and I’ll back you”?
First to consider is a central assumption: that because I’m older, more experienced, supposedly wiser, my way is the “right way”, my view is “correct”.
I remember the first time I proved one of my parents wrong.
A new movie had hit the big screen. I was told: “No. It’s not appropriate. You’re too young.” I was about 10.
But I disobeyed and sneaked into the theatre.
My mother found out, was extremely angry, but then saw the film herself…
It was Chariots of Fire and, to this day, it remains very precious to us both.
The sight of Scottish missionary Eric Liddell winning the men’s 400m at the 1924 Olympics in Paris has shaped my life ever since (search YouTube: “chariots finale”).
So parents don’t always know better.
And adults don’t make fewer mistakes than kids either.
In this newspaper and others you’ll find a daily onslaught of stories of adults making critical errors – of judgement, timing, character, integrity, every kind of mistake known to man.
Adults err, every one of them, from paupers to presidents.
The president of the most powerful nation on Earth did – Bill Clinton.
Hell, Nelson Mandela made mistakes – like his relationship with former president Suharto of Indonesia, allegedly a genocidal kleptocrat – who gave him his first now-famous pyjama shirts.
And yet Madiba remains the global icon he deserves to be.
Anyway. When facing difficult parenting decisions, I’m reminded of a poem by an unknown author which sat on the mantelpiece of our old wooden-floored family home.
Children Are Like Kites.
You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground.
You run with them until you’re both breathless.
They hit the rooftop.
You patch and comfort, adjust and teach them.
Finally they are airborne.
They need more string and you keep letting it out.
But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with joy.
The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you two together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.
I wish the author wasn’t “Unknown”, because I really need to ask: I know I must let go sometime… but when, when, when should that be? I’m left with uncertainty. But of three things I am certain.
To my son:
First: Yes, my love is unconditional.
Second: I understand, as you do, that the line from The Little Prince is true: “Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
And, finally, even if you err or falter, there are few stories more powerful than that of The Prodigal Son.
I, too, will be here, waiting.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline