When I was fourteen and a freshman in high school, a senior named Danny invited me to his prom. Danny was one of the “cool” kids at Norwalk High; he drove to school (in a Camaro!), smoked in the courtyard, and skipped classes at will. I was a decidedly uncool kid who rode the bus, had never smoked, and dutifully (if not fully attentively) attended every class. Danny, I believed, was my ticket to cool-ness.
My parents thought otherwise. I pitched a fit when they told me I couldn’t be Danny’s date to the prom. The outrage! The injustice! Yelling and tears gave way to accusations of “not letting me grow up” and pleas for “just give me this one chance.” (A writer, even then, I further expressed my indignation in a three-page, handwritten letter to them which my mother saved in her sock drawer, and which my sister Lynn famously resurrected and read aloud – with pitch-perfect dramatic flair – during a holiday dinner, decades later. It was quite a hit.)
I huffed, puffed and rolled my eyes at a questionable decision my parents made
I punished my parents (and my younger siblings, they like to remind me) with huffing and eye-rolling, slammed doors, and stomping feet. Eventually, I settled down and my Dad, sensing an opening, knocked on my bedroom door. A gentle man with an over-sized heart, my Dad was tender even when he disciplined. Hard as I tried – I mean, he had ruined my 14-year-old life! – I couldn’t stay mad at him; I adored him.
Dad took a seat on the edge of my bed and told me, in a shaky voice, that he loved me and that he and mom were doing their best. Parenting isn’t easy, he told me; there is no playbook.
“Many parents hold their children like birds in their hands,” he explained. “Then at a certain age, they open their hands,” he gestured dramatically, “and send the bird flying. But you’re not a bird to me, Susan. You’re a kite and I am holding the ball of string. I’m going to let the string out, slowly, bit by bit, over time.”
My father often pulled on my kite string
In the lifetime that has passed since that sweet moment on my bed, I have been reassured (and reined in) countless times by Dad’s gentle tug on my kite strings – in college, when I went a little too wild; in my first corporate job, when I pushed too hard; as a new mom, when I thought I could do it all.
I began to understand, more deeply, the push-pull of parenthood while raising my own four children. At times, I held them too tight, fearful of a less kind world than the one I entered, one just waiting to corrupt or reject or hurt them. Other times, I trusted too much and realized – after learning about a skipped class or witnessing a morning hangover – that the strings were a little too slack.
I followed my dad’s lead and adjusted my hold on my children’s kites
Always, I was adjusting my hold on their strings, a little tighter, a little looser. Following Dad’s lead, I shared the “kite and string” story with my children. Now young adults, they still feel and welcome my tugs of encouragement, delight and, occasionally, disapproval.
In 2014, I wrote Dad’s words into a song which I debuted for him and my extended family at his 80th birthday party. Shortly thereafter, I made a quick recording of it in my friend Bill Holloman’s basement studio with my kids singing and playing back-up. We burned a few CDs for family, but Bill, a music pro and a father himself, thought I needed to think bigger, to “get it out there” – so more parents could hear and follow my Dad’s wise words.
Last year, I sang “Kite and String” for Dad while sitting on the edge of his bed, as he passed away after a brief illness. My siblings, children, mom, and extended family sang along on the refrains:
You are the kite, and I am the ball of string;
You are the voice, and I am the song you sing;
And when you fly, I will be following,
‘Cause you are the kite, and I am the ball of string.
At that moment, the kite strings were in our hands. We gently let them go and let Dad pass.
I honored my dad by getting my song out there
Finally, and in honor of Dad, I followed Bill’s advice and I’m getting my song “out there.” “Kite and String” has now been re-recorded, mastered, and dropped on all major streaming platforms.
It is a tribute to the father I adored, and I share it in hopes that it will inspire fathers and daughters (and mothers and sons) everywhere to embrace the tethers of family and hold each other tight.
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