I hope everyone had a tremendous spring break and that you all got the change of pace, rest, and/or excitement that you needed and deserved at this critical time of the year. The winter theme of “snow,” certainly seems to have continued over these past few weeks. If you stayed in the Oakton area, you know that it snowed almost once a week. And if you were like me and actually did some travel this time, you felt like you left with snow falling and returned to snow. The winter has certainly had an impact on us this year.
Have you ever taken a trip and realized that you were witnessing the culmination of a dream? Sometimes, it may be just getting to that location you always wanted to see, that city or that country, or experiencing that adventure that you always wanted to do and now you finally did it! You may have spent months or even years looking ahead to this moment and suddenly it is before you. Emily and I had exactly that kind of feeling this spring break. We do a lot of talk here at school about “hopes and dreams,” looking to the future, pursuing ideas and passions. And while we may do it as a school, we need to realize that it is an important aspect of all of our individual lives, and most importantly, our children’s lives as well. Some of the best advice and yet most difficult advice to honor, is when we are told to let our children follow their passions, give them the room to be the people they are and want to be, and let them seek out their “hopes and dreams.” Too often, we feel that we see the path for them much better than maybe they do. We know what’s best for them; we can see what will work perfectly for them. But the reality is that then it is our path, not theirs. And it has to be their path if they are really going to achieve their “hopes and dreams.”
We have watched this experience play out for some time with our youngest son. I have mentioned before that we have three boys that we love dearly. Our two older boys were very close in age and similar in the fact that they were very athletic and loved sports. It was so evident, that it was a main aspect of their personalities and their personal drive. They were three-sport athletes in high school and were college athletes. Derek, our youngest, was born ten years after our middle son. Naturally, I figured he would follow in the same footsteps as his older brothers, but eventually I struggled with the fact that he wasn’t all that keen on athletics. I guess he had been dragged to too many of his brothers’ games. He was also growing up in a world where he had to deal with us at a critical time, because as they headed off to college when he was young, he became an “only” child at home. Technology had entered the world and he was fascinated by it. He loved his math and science, loved creating things on a computer at an early age, and he had this “thing” about Japanese culture and Japan. We don’t know what triggered it or why it became so important to him. I remember that as he was entering the upper school years, he wanted to pursue Japanese as his language. I also remember sitting him down since he had been taking Spanish ever since lower school saying, “Derek, we live in south Texas. You need to keep learning Spanish. You need to be fluent in Spanish!” Finally, we compromised and agreed that he could try both languages in Grade 9, but he had to finish Spanish III no matter what. He got the Upper School Head to allow it, and we let him start Japanese (fully expecting that it would never last). I had watched his older brothers have great ideas of things they wanted to pursue, and then shortly lose interest and watched those ideas fade away. But the Japanese didn’t! He pursued it all through upper school and even took several years of it in college. He spent one summer in high school as an exchange student in Kumamoto, Japan, truly pursuing one of his “dreams.” And “robotics” became his “sport.” He and several friends introduced the program at the school and met tremendous success by their senior year, winning the city and state tournaments and making it to nationals!
When time came for college, Derek clearly had a vision that he wanted engineering and he was accepted at great schools all across the country. He ultimately chose our own University of Virginia to do his engineering work. It was a great choice as he was able to not only do active research as an undergraduate, but was fortunate enough to have several papers published in that process. When the time came for graduate school, he was accepted at schools around the country and UVA asked him to stay. But again, that “dream” of his, had him apply for an international scholarship to the University of Tokyo. Online, he had found a professor at that school, whose research matched some of his interests in thermo dynamics, and he thought he just needed to give it a shot to see if he could get accepted. He received the scholarship, but now was suddenly torn and not sure what to do. When he went to seek counsel with the Dean of the Graduate Engineering Department at UVA, I remember Derek sharing her words with us as he debated what opportunity to pursue. He said that she had been very calm as he shared his angsts, but she knew him well through his years at the University and advised him, “Derek, you have to go! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We will be here for you if it doesn’t work out, but you will never forgive yourself if you don’t go. This has been your dream!”
So suddenly, there was our son, heading off to a country where we knew no one, to a University we knew nothing about, to live in a city that was truly foreign to us in every concept. It was Emily who kept reminding me, “John, this is his dream. This is something he really wants to do. Just let him do it.” With that said, I backed off, did not ask as many questions, or push him as hard on different aspects that I might have questioned, and let him run with it. Thank goodness for inventions like “Skype” and “FaceTime;” they were life savers! We made a trip five years ago to visit and see his new “home” and to get a sense of what his experience must be like. We met his advisor at the university and got a grasp of the enormity of the city of Tokyo. And over a week of spring break, we saw the culmination of the “hopes and dreams” that our son has had for so long!
We were able to travel to Japan and spend time with him and our wonderful daughter-in-law, Kae, who Derek married several years ago. She is a phenomenal young lady from Nagasaki, Japan. She made it her mission on this trip, to introduce us to parts of the country that Western tourists probably wouldn’t see. We were able to visit hot springs up in the mountains and native villages that have retained some of the traditions that have been such a part of the Japanese culture for centuries. And we stayed in parts of Tokyo that were away from the glitz of the shopping district and were more “normal” in the urban life style of Tokyo. We ultimately attended Derek’s graduation without a word of English spoken and watched him receive his Ph.D. in Material Engineering. And it was nice that he received two diplomas, one in Japanese and one in English. He has worked hard. He has followed his dreams and his passions with an energy and a drive that have been impressive to watch. He was right. It was his path…his hope and his dream. He has created a wonderful life for himself, for his wife, and for his life. Interestingly enough, now they hope to come to the United States and, at least for the next phase of their lives, would love to live on the West Coast. A bit closer to Japan and an opportunity for Kae to pursue a dream she has always had to live in the United States. Her hope and dream.
So as we all get back into the routine of life, I hope we keep in mind how important it is to allow our children the space they may need to be inspired by great teachers, to find their passions, and to grow them into “hopes and dreams.” Then have the courage, confidence, and love to give them the room to follow those hopes and dreams by giving them the loving and caring support that they need to make their lives, the reality they seek.
I can tell you firsthand, it actually works and you will stand there at some point, just as we did, in absolute awe of what THEY have accomplished all on their own. Knowing full well, it is the life they earned by pursing their “hopes and dreams” with the values and foundation you helped them build through all those challenging years!
We have a great spring ahead of us. There is so much ahead of us…so many “hopes and dreams” to come.