This year, my eldest daughter graduated from high school. As I heard her name called and watched her walk across the stage, I was filled with mixed emotions. Of course I was extremely proud that she made it to one of life’s first milestones. She’s a strong young adult with a very level headed approach to life. The other part of me was sinking into the worry of difficult decisions she’d be faced with in her young adult life. Life beyond the confines of high school seemed scary all of a sudden.
When I saw Toy Story 3, it made me anticipate this very moment with my daughter. This third installment in the trilogy, with a screenplay by Michael Arndt and direction by Lee Unkrich, is all about Andy reaching that same milestone. Andy’s right of passage from childhood is captured in a scene where he passes the torch to Bonnie: He places his childhood pal Woody in her hands and turns back and says his final goodbye. We all feel our heartstrings pulled and can relate to Andy as we all experienced that moment where we “grew up” and passed through from being a child to being an adult. As a dad, it’s even harder to watch as my children go through those same experiences.
Thinking about what help and advice I can offer my daughter as she moves on to the next phase of life, and recalling Toy Story 3, it makes me wonder what happened to Andy’s dad. He’s absent from all three movies, without any kind of explanation. Andy clearly has a strong mother figure in his life, but I did wonder if he had a father figure in his life offering life experience as well, even from afar.
The things I’ve tried to convey to my own daughter were things that were never conveyed to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have anyone in my life offering me choices or options as to which path I’d choose. After high school, I was left with a wide open space and absolutely no plan. That was a scary place to be. Everything I know now I learned by trial and error on my own. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned (the hard way) is that making decisions that turn out to be wrong is okay. Changing paths in life even multiple times can result, eventually, in finding happiness. Not making any decision, as in falling victim to stagnancy, is the worst possible approach. You’ve got to try things and risk failure.
I’ve also tried to convey that a job is not necessarily a future. Holding a part time or even a full time job is necessary, as long as it doesn’t keep you from exploring options. I found myself stuck on a path that wasn’t what I wanted, but the stability and predictability made me complacent. Eventually, I took a big risk and it paid off. However, the opportunity was there and I went for it. Honing skills and developing a good work ethic are essential, but at the same time sometimes taking a big risk is necessary.
Ultimately, my daughter’s future is in her hands and she will have many decisions to make in the coming weeks and months that will affect her future. As a parent, all we can do is be there for them and offer wisdom of (our) ages. They will stumble and fall along the way and it will be hard to watch, but the one thing that will never change, as a dad (and just like Woody) I’ll never give up on her (or any of my girls), ever and I’ll be there for them, all of them, no matter what.