This time of year, some of you may be saying “goodbye” as you send a child off to¬†college. ¬†Perhaps some of you have already had your¬†children move or enlist in the military. Saying goodbye is hard‚Äďit’s something I have to do since my daughter does not live with me. And below is one of my favorite poems that brings a surprising, humorous, and heartfelt look at that moment.
Flashback to when your child was learning to ride a bike. Flashback to when YOU were learning to ride a bike. It’s a rite of passage for pretty much all of us. As a father, the best memories are sharing those moments you remember having as a kid. But learning to ride a bike can be a little scary! For my daughter, I remember I had to run while holding her bike’s¬†handlebars. After a while I’d helicopter around behind her. Now, she flies down the street while pedaling in her flip-flops.
So take a look at this poem, “To a Daughter Leaving Home”. It’s by Linda Pastan, one of my favorite American poets; I love her frequent works about loss and the fear of loss. Read it straight through like one big sentence. Then, re-read it while pausing briefly after each line:
When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
as you wobbled away¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 5
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park, ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†10
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† 15
smaller, more breakable
for your life, screaming
with laughter, ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† 20
the hair flapping
behind you like a
The poem moves almost as fast as the girl on the bike. The short lines give it a choppy read that¬†puts you on edge as you wait to see what the next line gives‚Ä¶kind of like the speaker awaiting the next moment during that bike ride.
There are two sets of lines to look closely at. First, 19-20. Screaming‚Ä¶oh no, she’s screaming! But then the surprise is, oh wait, it’s laughter. Whew. Then the last two lines. The waving handkerchief is a classic image of goodbye and POSSIBLY a subtle symbol of surrender, echoing the speaker’s possible desire for this harrowing moment to¬†end. But the waving‚Ä¶there is a waving, but not of greeting. Of goodbye. The use of simile (remember I talked about that term here?) links the image of the girl on the bike at 8 to a farewell. And from the beginning of the poem, we see that the speaker is reflecting on a past moment. And the title of the poem¬†tells us why this reflection is happening now, as the past and present come together.
So dads, keep it together out there. Maybe it’s not as bad as it may seem. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s make the best out of every moment. Even when saying “goodbye.”