When Ruth and I were married almost 32 years ago we had dreams of careers, family and children. In our wedding ceremony we chose the song from Fiddler on the Roof to symbolize how quickly time passes. You may remember Tevye and Goldie singing “Sunrise, Sunset”:
Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?
Wasn’t it yesterday
When they were small?
Even though I heard those words, I never really imagined what it would feel like to be Tevye or Ruth to be Golde. We had yet to have children or to raise a family; it was all in the future. Now, Ruth and I find ourselves in the position of the parents who are sending children to college. Our Jacob is a junior at George Fox and now our second child, Rebekah, heads to college next year. It does seem like yesterday that they were small.
At a meal we were listening to a story told by Linda Samek, one of our very fine deans, who was talking about a tradition they created in their family. When one of the children got ready to go to college they encouraged them to choose a special place to visit or experience with one of the parents as both a symbol of the relationship and also a recognition that the relationship was changing. We adopted Linda’s practice as our own, and Ruth encouraged me to be the one that took the kids. In Jacob’s case, we went to Washington, D.C., and watched a soccer game between Chelsea and AC Milan, and then we toured Washington sites and the battlefields of the Civil War. This was a trip I could readily relate to!
When it came time for Rebekah to choose a trip, she took her time. She does not like history much, so I knew she would not choose battlefield tours or a visit to famous libraries. It was her trip, and I wanted her to choose something she wanted to do, but interestingly, she also wanted to do something I would enjoy. She wanted to go to Hawaii and, in order to spark my enthusiasm, she asked me to run a race with her on Oahu. She knows I love running, and what could be better than a run in paradise?
We did a lot of the “normal” things you do when visiting Hawaii – go to a Luau, walk on the beach, snorkel, tour the Queen’s Palace. The run was the last thing on our schedule. When Rebekah chose this race, I asked her if she was sure that she wanted to run on a Marine base with Marines. The run was part of the base commander’s challenge series and took place entirely on a runway at Kaneohe Marine Base. She said, “sure.” As a veteran runner, I suspected that this would be interesting.
We registered at the base the day before the run. I get a little nervous when I go to a military base because there are all kinds of rules and protocols that civilians do not know. The directions said you had to get a pass to get into the base, so we went early. When we arrived, a sentry – a surly gentleman who was very nicely dressed – greeted us. When we told him that we were there to register for the race, he paused and then instructed, “Just go up there to the rec. center, get your materials, and get off the base as quick as you can.” Now that sounded like something we could do, and we accomplished our mission.
The race started early in the morning, and we got to the base with what we thought was plenty of time. This time, the young man at the gate greeted us and said, “I am sorry, you will have to get a pass.” Rebekah and I headed to the station for passes and found 30 people in line. Each turn took about 10 minutes, and I was not sure we were going to make it, so I decided to improvise. We went outside and found a marine who was willing to take us to the race from the front gate! (We found out later that you are not supposed to do that – some Marine rule, but that is another story.)
We successfully made it to the start and it was clear that promotional materials for the race conveyed a different environment than our surroundings. You could see the beautiful mountains in the distance, but the 5K race was entirely on the airport runway, and it was hot. Most of the runners were also Marines – mostly guys. Now Rebekah knows that I am quite a bit faster than she is, so as we got ready to start she said, “Hey Dad, why don’t you go ahead and finish and then you can come back and run with me.” Oh, that was tempting. I love competing and I really did not want to let a bunch of Marines beat me when I was capable of passing many of them! It was at that moment that the Lord reminded me that this was about time with my daughter. So, I said, “No, I came to run with you.”
The horn went off, and for the next 26 minutes we ran on the runway at Kaneohe. We ran together. The experience was very different for me. I was passed by many runners who were far less capable than I was (including a Marine running in full combat gear). Farther back in the running pack, runners are not as concerned about “victory” as they are about the experience – we worked together. At one point in the race, it was difficult and I knew Rebekah wanted to walk but because we were together, we kept moving and the finish line moved closer and closer until we crossed together.
Rebekah has been in our home for 18 years. The Lord has made her unique and special. She likes long walks on beaches. She enjoys making and listening to music. She loves snorkeling in the ocean. She hears the voice of God in different ways than I do.
Like all parents sending their children off to college this year (and every year), we have dreams and hopes for them. What my daughter reminded me of one summer day on a run in Hawaii is that the prize does not always go to the one who runs the fastest or who gets the highest grade. Fathers win when they get to know their daughters and sons just a little better and share in their hopes and dreams.
It is our hope that as Rebekah begins this next significant phase of her life (at a college away from her parents’ shadow in Newberg), she will find college professors and staff who help her find God’s special role in the world that only she can fill. We share the desire of our many George Fox parents that our daughter will “be known.”