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Bree turning 21 and Edison graduating from high school in the same week. Joy or sadness? — which do I feel more?

I did not expect to be tearing up all week. And crying. And feeling sad and happy and proud and afraid — all at what seemed to be the same time, all jumbled together by the hour, all week long.

A voice in me keeps saying, “Why are you so emotional?… Why can’t you be ‘normal’?… You’re supposed to be happy!”

I think of the work of Brene Brown — what some of us men grow up hearing: Real men don’t cry. Emotions are for pussies.

Brown knows emotions. She says don’t numb the painful ones: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”


And I suppose this whole post is about vulnerability. And Brown gets that, too: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. The vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Translation: Paul, keep showing up and letting yourself feel the full range of emotions and don’t judge yourself for feeling them.

All the other dads last night seemed all put together, talking the way dads talk, colleges, games, scores. Moms talking about how sad they are; dads talking about sports.

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I bet many of them felt just like I felt: sad and happy and proud and afraid — all at what seemed to be the same time, all jumbled together by the hour, all week long.

I remember a wise sage once telling me, “Never compare what you feel on the inside with what you see on the outside of others.”


As men, we hide. Behind our status. Behind sports. Behind everything other than I FEEL SAD AND AFRAID THAT MY CHILD ISN’T GOING TO NEED ME LIKE HE ONCE DID.

Healthy parents feel very conflicted during 21st birthdays and graduations. Because healthy parents haven’t infantilized their teenagers. They know that kids need to become adults.

But this week was all about the unexpected hit — Bree turning 21 and Edison graduating. Double punch.

And why should I be sad? Sure, Bree’s my eldest child. And sure she’s my only daughter. But why does 21 even matter? It’s just a number. It only means she can now order or purchase alcoholic beverages. I think mixed-in with the number 21, is the fact that there are no other “big” birthdays for her. She’s done 13 and 16 and 18 and 21. None of the others really matter; rights and freedoms don’t increase.

All of them matter.

Mixed-in also is her achievements. Landing an internship at UCLA’s Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center. Did that this week. Didn’t need ME.

Did it on her own.

I wrote this today on a piece of paper while at coffee:

Tears. All week. Joy. And sadness. Your baby girl turns 21. And watching her sail on school and work and internships. And she didn’t need me. She rarely does.

“She’s on her own now.
“Then last night. Edison. Baccalaureate mass. I’ve cried. Every time. At EVERY wedding and graduation and funeral. I can’t not. I inherited this crying gene. From Mom. Mom — that she can’t celebrate this week. That hurts. And Spencer. Edison’s good friend since 4th grade. Who died in a freak car crash, 10 months ago. When they paid tribute to him. Celebrating these graduates of Mater Dei AND grieving Spencer’s absence. Joy. And sadness.
“The symbolism of moments: birthdays, graduations, weddings. Tomorrow is graduation. Edison will soon walk. “Well say goodbye it’s Independence Day…All boys must run away…All boys must make their way come Independence Day” (Springsteen).”

I don’t know.

No, I do know. Life is all about ups. And downs. And ups.

And sometimes when it’s up, you can feel down, too.

And that’s okay.