The other day my son announced his intention to launch himself into space on a one-way journey to explore the galaxy. As his father, I should be used to him making grand, above-his-age statements (he’s only 6), but hearing my first grader calmly state his dream to die in space threw me off a bit.
He was so calm when he told me his idea.
“I want to build the ‘100th Horizon’ which would be a spaceship big enough to hold me and other people, and we would fly to the end of our galaxy learning about space. We would even fly past Pluto and other ice planets.”
“But it would take you years to get to the end of our galaxy,” I countered. “Mommy and I might be dead before you would come home.”
“I know that,” he said. “Me and my friends would all probably die in space, but that’s okay. It would just put me closer to heaven, so I could see you faster after I die.”
I’ll admit–that choked me up. But it was what he said next that floored me. I asked him why he would want to fly off on a one-way journey into space. This is what he said:
“Because I want to give my life to help people. We would have better knowledge if I flew into space.”
I wasn’t prepared for that answer. My wife and I have taken great pains to instill in our children a love and compassion for others, and we’ve always gone out of our way to encourage our children’s natural interests. My daughter, Ella, loves to dance and sing, so we’ve enrolled her in dance classes and helped her audition for school musicals. Jon loves science and playing drums, so we signed him up for drum lessons and try to fuel his thirst for knowledge.
Rachel and I both grew up in cultures that encouraged dreams, but weren’t so quick to encourage acting on them. We don’t want our kids to grow up like that; we want them to dream AND act, to be intentional with how they live their lives.
In short, we’ve never squashed their dreams. Despite what you might think, this is a challenging position to maintain.
As a parent, you want what’s best for your kid, but sometimes what’s best for them absolutely kills you on the inside. Hearing Jon so fearlessly announce that his dream was to launch himself on a suicide mission for the betterment of mankind made me want to throw up. In fact, on my insides, I could feel the fear rising up. My mental list-maker went into overdrive, concocting as many reasons why he SHOULDN’T go into space as I possibly could.
But I didn’t breathe a word of that to him. The only allowance I gave my fears was to mention to Jon that if he went to the end of the galaxy, it would make me sad because I would never see him again. Given how much my son loves me, even that was probably too much, an unfair emotional manipulation perpetrated on a child by an adult.
But Jon’s response was not only perfect, it was completely Jon: I’ll just be that much closer to heaven, so I’ll see you sooner.
Even now, I want to cry typing that out. It’s such a beautiful statement: I will live my dreams, but I will always love and think of you.
As a parent, could I ask for more?
Sometimes, I worry that I will transfer my fear issues on to my kids. I see Ella hesitate when walking into a room full of people she doesn’t know, and I wonder if I caused that. I see Jon have a meltdown because he hurts himself while playing, and I wonder if I’ve somehow bred weakness into him.
But then my children say and do things that amaze me, and remind me of what my actual end goal is as a parent.
My job as their dad is to raise them to be healthy, functional adults capable of living a life of meaning and joy. That means allowing them to experience and learn things as a child that cause me great fear.
I would rather be the one who feels the ugly, paralyzing fear. I would rather live through their childhood years worrying and fretting over things than pass that anxiety on to them. I want them to emerge from my home with a sense of wonder and courage, a belief in themselves and their talents that propels them to do things much greater than anyone could imagine.
My son wants to launch himself into the uncharted ends of space on a one-way trip to broaden humanity’s understanding of the universe we call home. As a dad, the idea makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry for a couple of days. But it also makes me proud of my son, proud of the man he will one day become, regardless of whether or not he actually makes it into space.
So, as his dad, I’m going to do the only thing I can: I’m going to bust my butt to introduce him to people who can expand his knowledge. I know some folks who know some folks, so I’m going to set up some lunches where Jon can interview an astronaut or astronomer. I’m going to take him back to the Space Center in Huntsville, AL, and maybe send him to Space Camp one summer.
I’m going to do everything I can to encourage my son to be all he can be, because that’s what is best for him as a person, and what’s best for me as a dad.
And if he actually achieves his dream, it might just be what’s best for mankind, too.