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I laughed out loud when I saw my older son come out of his apartment building in a navy blue bathrobe and slippers. He looked like he’d stolen the outfit from the Sears Catalog.

When did he become such a man? I thought to myself. When did he stop wearing jam shorts and giant t-shirts? It was astonishing. Was the robe velour?

My children, the four of them, they are people who grew up in my house but they’re no more my creations than the Grand Canyon or the Mona Lisa.

Take my younger son, Joe, for instance.

For a long time, my job was to keep the world from chewing Joe up. He was orphaned at an early age, disadvantaged by having lived in an orphanage, but he found his footing pretty quickly and then my job was to keep him safe which I did well enough for a long time but then hit a wall where it wasn’t possible to keep him safe. He would have to do that on his own.

That took a while, a long while, a painful while, but not really so long in the scheme of things. I had to let go of him so he could sink and then swim to the top. Which he did. But it was hell waiting sometimes, looking over the side of the boat wondering if his air bubbles would ever rise to the surface.

I thought of this today, Joe’s birthday. I thought of how glad I am that he came to the surface and swam to the side of the boat. I thought of how glad I am that he is healthy and happy. I thought about how little I had to do with this and how much he has shaped his own life, as have all my children in their own unique and secret ways.

I thought of this:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts. 

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.   — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet