That Was a Great Game

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"Dad, can you help me with my English homework?"

"Hey, Dad? See my baseball mitt?"

"Dad, I need a ride home. Can you come get me?"

And so for 23 years my children defined who I was in the house that my wife, Roe, and I bought 26 years ago. I liked driving the children to the zoo. I liked taking Michael to fencing lessons. I liked reading Treasure Island aloud to David. I liked teaching Karen how to ride a bicycle. "Don’t let go, Daddy!" she called out with nervous laughter as she and I made our way down the street.

I didn’t realize it would end. David left for college, met Oana, became engaged. Karen went off to college and majored in English. And Michael, well, he was the last, the youngest—he was always around; then suddenly he was in college, and I walked up the stairs one night and found three empty bedrooms.

It has been difficult to adjust to what is commonly called "the empty nest." I call it an empty heart. Where are my babies? What happened to the young father who carried the little boy on his back as he counted the stairs? What happened to the man who pushed his little girl on the swing as she gleefully cried, "Faster, Daddy! Faster!"

Somehow I think human beings are built to say goodbye. We know how to nurture, to love, to build up a home and a family and a place where routine and Scrabble become hints of heaven. Then it is all gone. Games are tucked away in the hall closet, children grow up and fall in love, travel, set out for other lives that cast long shadows back to where they once knew the sound of their father’s voice.

Letting go is difficult, especially if what we must relinquish fills our own inside sense for what is good and comfortable and safe. But we are not creatures locked in time and space. We grow old. The earth revolves around the sun each 24 hours no matter how much we wish to hold back time. But we remember the spinning wheels of a daughter’s bicycle and the laughter of a son’s voice when his father made the pirate sound of Long John Silver.

At the end of the Robin Williams’ film "Hook," one of the lost boys in Neverland says to Peter Pan just before Peter leaves, "That was a great game."

When I am close to my own end, I hope that I can look up into the eyes of my children and whisper, "That was a great game," for in this game of living, among those we love is where we indeed find greatness. Such greatness is undiscovered until we let go of those we love and watch them fly away to their own places of goodness.

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