Sunday, June 16, 2024


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Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Fort Dodge Senior High graduates celebrate last spring during a ceremony inside Dodger Stadium.

It was a random day early in the 2009 school year. My son and I were at R.D. Mitchell Park in Fort Dodge after one of his very first preschool classes. We decided to have a picnic, and I remember watching him play and run freely, ducking in and out of the tunnel there that only 4-year-olds clear without a care in the world.

As parents, we’ve all had these moments of clarity and reflection. Part of you is proud that you’ve made it this far. Part of you is overwhelmed by how far you still have to go. And part of you is simultaneously intrigued and terrified by what the future may hold.

I once had a wise older man tell me to spend as much time with my kids as possible before they start school, because it’s the only period where you really get their undivided attention. I took that advice to heart, working unconventional hours and sacrificing a lot of sleep to make sure I was there for them when my wife was at work. It was tough, but we always found a way.

That’s parenting in a nutshell. There are days where you don’t have all the answers — or any, for that matter. There are stretches where you struggle to raise them right at all. And there are never any guarantees.

It’s tough, but you find a way.

Nearly 15 years ago, I had what seemed like all the time in the world to get it figured out. Now I’m down to what feels like days to come up with a conclusion of sorts. My son graduates from Fort Dodge Senior High this Saturday night.

The memory of that afternoon, for whatever reason, has been following me around a lot recently. On one hand, it’s like it just happened. Yet it was, for all intents and purposes, an entire lifetime ago.

The spring of 2024 used to seem so far away, like a fake date on a piece of paper. But here we are.

Graduation is a natural time for similar introspection. Did you teach them the necessary lessons? Give them the right experiences? Were you too involved in their decisions? Not enough? And most importantly, did you raise a good person?

Most parents would agree that while you are able to steer your children in certain directions, there is also only so much you can do or say as they get older. Trying to make sure they avoid obvious mistakes, self-inflicted pain and prolonged suffering is a natural instinct, but sometimes, going through the struggle is the best way for them to learn the lesson. The constant tug of war between holding on and letting go is real.

I’ve desperately wanted to give my son the right words of advice recently — something that will stay with him regardless of where he goes or what he does. You picture it like a movie scene, where both your wisdom and timing aligns perfectly with the moment.

This is the real world, though. I think important snapshots in a young person’s life are more about a parent being present than perfect. Just continue to be there for them. Listen. Offer support.

Don’t forget to be honest, though. Try to help them become self-aware and sensitive to others when the time is right. Often easier said than done, but it’s typically better for them to hear the harsh truth from you first.

We tell our kids to find their purpose, pursue their passions, seek success and search for happiness. I don’t disagree with any of that, but it can become a mixed message of sorts. There’s often a lot of pressure — even if it’s unspoken — that comes with the “performance” levels of a young person: in school, athletics, activities or life in general.

We don’t talk enough, in my opinion, about also finding peace. Peace with who you are. Peace with where you are. Peace in doing things for the right reasons.

There is a simplicity — and an attainability — in recognizing a relative comfort level for an accomplishment today. Is it important to push yourself? Absolutely. To build and maintain a work ethic? Without question. But adults often overlook the opportunity to offer needed perspective and celebrate the here and now. A delicate balance, for sure, but don’t forget to praise a job well done before moving on to the next goal. Stopping to feel satisfaction is a lost art in a modern society of always wanting more.

On the last day of school, my wife and I had an impromptu picnic of sorts with Evan at a park. The parallels to that day long ago at the starting line weren’t lost on me. The biggest difference at the finish? My son, as a young adult, is now trying to navigate the present and figure out what’s next as well.

None of us have all the answers. Coming up with the right questions, I think, is the real key to life. And you should never really stop asking. We all grow older and (hopefully) wiser, but taking an occasional wrong turn comes with the territory for all of us. Forgive and move on.

I know graduates everywhere will hear variations of this advice a million times over, but I’ll still say it here: never take time for granted. Never lose your inner voice. Never stop trusting yourself. Never get lost in comparing or following. Never hold grudges.

And never be too old to have lunch with your parents.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at, on on Twitter @ByEricPratt

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