The Dance of Development by Bill Bussey, Provost
October, 1961: My father tells my brother Bob that they are making the long drive down to Providence in two weeks for a college interview at Brown University. My brother says he doesn’t want to go Brown; he wants to go to Wesleyan. My father says that he wants Bob to go to Brown.
As my father pulls his car in front of the Brown admissions office and lets my brother out, he tells Bob to hurry up, that they are running late, and that he will join the interview after he parks the car. A few minutes later, my father is walking up to the admissions office when he meets my brother coming down the stairs. Stunned, my father asks Bob what is going on. Had the interviewer headed off to lunch? My brother replies that his interview is over and that it was a quick one.
Staring dead straight into my father’s eyes, Bob laid it out: “The guy asked me why I wanted to go to Brown and I said that I didn’t want to go Brown. I said that I wanted to go to Wesleyan. And then he said ‘Well, I guess we don’t have much more to talk about.' And I said, ‘No. I guess not.’”
It was a quiet ride back home to Maine.
April, 2000: In one month Bob’s son Nick is graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in electrical engineering. Nick calls him and says that he has good news and bad news. My brother tells him to give him the good news first. Nick says that he is going to graduate on time. My brother says now give him the bad news. Nick replies that while he is not really sure what he wants next, he knows without a doubt that he wants absolutely nothing to do with engineering. My brother tells him, “Better for you to figure that out now rather than realizing it 15 miserable years from now.” Nick is now a film editor in New York City and loving it. Go figure.
Not everyone develops at the same time. It is a delicate dance for parents to be patient without feeling that opportunities are slipping away. The truth is that like many things in life we don’t always get to call how things will play out—and that is often painfully true when it comes to our children. However, when we are constantly looking into the future, we miss the joy of the here and now. Between our own egos and our best laid plans, we often completely blow those moments when our children are trying to tell us who they are and what they think they may want to be. Yet, when patterns ultimately reveal a serious truth about our children — and about ourselves, that for various reasons we do not wish to swallow — we often find ways to obfuscate, diminish, or dismiss things in order not to further complicate our already stretched-out lives and worldview. For our children to see the importance of living a life that respects themselves and others, to have the confidence to initiate conversations that will lend a perspective to making the right decisions, they need balanced, ever-present adults in their lives who will listen and treat their concerns not as complications but as opportunities.