This week, as my daughter, Ashley, is about to celebrate her birthday, I am reminded of how very PROUD I am to have such a wonderful daughter!
When my two children, Ashley and Ben, Jr., were young, one of the most important things I wanted for them was the ability to take care of themselves well. Ashley was eight and Ben Jr. was five when their mother and I divorced. Because they were now not with me on a daily basis, my focus shifted from a physical focal point to a conscious focal point. Accordingly, I took every opportunity to impart various lessons that I thought would be helpful throughout their lives. No doubt, experiencing my father’s passing at 16 encouraged me to impart a little “Waldo Wisdom” to insure they would be prepared for whatever came their way.
When Ashley was in high school, she decided to live with me. After not actually living together in the same house since she was 8, this period was a growing time for the both of us. As Ashley was learning about life and ‘becoming,’ I was learning how to be a single father and parent of a teenage daughter. Yes, there were a few sleepless nights. I wanted to protect her from all harm, yet I knew that I had to give her the latitude to become who she wanted to become.
As the days and months went by, I marveled at her evolution. She was savvy and had a knack for figuring out how to do things. And, she was logical and determined to accomplish her goals. For example, on the night of her senior prom, she was out beyond curfew. I was very strict with her curfew and was growing more anxious as every minute passed. When the phone rang, I picked it up expecting to impart a few choice words of wisdom and she calmly said, “First, I want you to know that I’m OK. Next, I know I’m supposed to be home right now, but I want to enjoy prom night longer and have fun with my friends, so I’ve decided to do that. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And, I accept any consequences you deem fit for my actions.” My first thought was, “How dare you to defy my rule?” Thinking about it more, I was impressed that she was taking charge of her ‘becoming’ and that she accepted responsibility for her actions. Her ‘becoming’ challenged me and made me come to ‘grips’ that she was a senior in high school and would soon be out in the world on her own!
Shortly after her prom came her graduation from high school. My little girl was no longer a little girl and was getting ready to attend college. She decided to go to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA, some 200 miles from home. This brought on some consternation as she would be SO far from home and away from my oversight. I was concerned that my ‘little girl’ might succumb to peer pressure and make some choices that she might regret. Deep down inside I knew I needed to accept the fact that Ashley was growing up and that if I truly wanted her to ‘become’ who she wanted to become, I truly needed to release control and, indeed, support her evolution. It was just so hard to give up control because I wanted to ensure that she was safe and happy!
Little did I know that on our trip to get her moved-in at Georgia Southern, my fears about her safety and welfare would be eased by her actions.
After Ashley had finished packing her car, I loaded it on a car dolly that I had hitched onto my 40’ Blue Bird Motor Coach. The route I decided to travel was U.S. Hwy. 301, which is the road my parents used to take when I was a kid when we traveled from Waldo to North Carolina where they were raised.
Due to Interstate I-95 being built somewhat parallel to it, U.S. Hwy 301 was still a two-lane road, with narrow bridges that had concrete sidewalls. In the early afternoon, I became sleepy and told Ashley, “I know you are anxious to get to Statesboro, but I need to pull over and take a nap.” To that, Ashley said, “Dad, I can drive.” “But you’ve never driven this or anything like this,” I said with quite a bit of anxiety in my voice. “Driving this is different than driving a car.” To that she replied with sincere confidence, “Just tell me how and I’ll do it.” Since there was very little traffic on the road, I decided I would let her drive.
I pulled the motor coach over and then explained, “This vehicle is wider than a normal car and in driving it, there’s a sensation that you’re not driving in the middle of your driving lane as you’ll think that you are indeed driving somewhat in the oncoming traffic’s lane. Thus, you will have a tendency to drive on the very right side of the lane and you may go off the road onto the shoulder.” So, after her assurance that she understood, I let her take the wheel. I said to myself, “I better sit in the passenger’s seat for a bit just to make sure she can drive this thing.” I no more than got that thought in my mind then I saw one of those very narrow bridges with concrete sidewalls just a short distance ahead. It caused me some concern but, I thought Ashley would drive down the middle of the bridge and thus stay away from the concrete wall, which is what I would have done. This thought was short lived when I saw a huge log truck, loaded down with logs, coming towards us and would enter the bridge at the same time we would!
My first inclination was to shout out instructions on how to keep the Motor Coach centered in ‘our’ lane so she would not hit the sidewall or the oncoming truck!! But quickly, I decided to trust her enough to implement the instructions I had given her and to not say something that might cause her to question herself. I must say, it was a good decision. Ashley didn’t panic and coolly kept the motor coach in her lane. Within the first two minutes of operating the motor coach, she passed the ultimate driving challenge in flying colors!!
In looking back on that incident, I realize that it taught me a valuable lesson. Once you’ve explained something to someone, love them enough to get out of their way and trust them to accomplish the task. Show them that respect. Hovering over and critiquing them as they go about the task will make them feel insecure and untrusted, and the outcome may very well be quite inferior to what you had initially desired. Love and respect trumps insecurity and distrust every time.
My interactions with Ashley during the subsequent years have been greatly influenced by this revelation. Our discussions on life’s challenges now flows through channels of love and respect. Has she always done everything in her life as I would have done? No. And thank God for that - because her accomplishments and her mistakes (I like to call them ‘learning experiences’) have shaped her into the wonderful woman she has become!
Now that Ashley has children of her own, I watch their interactions and I see her moving through challenges with Maddy and Carson with the same love and respect that she and I have for each other to this day. I see Maddy and Carson positively evolving and I know they will continue to grow with a loving and respectful spirit! I am awed at the person my wonderful daughter, Ashley, has ‘become.’
One of my favorite pieces of Waldo Wisdom is that school is never out. This country boy is never too old or too proud to learn from his daughter. Thank you Ashley, for teaching me about love and respect.