H. G. Well’s “The Time Machine” is no longer fiction.
I found myself a Time Jumper into the dream my daughter, Nikki, has had repeated for 17 years. At 8 years of age, she turned to me on the way to school and confidently expressed “I’m going to be a vet when I am older.” She never wavered (except for the brief period she wrestled with being a Super Model or answering the switchboard at my office). Even during high school when I inadvertently crushed her heart by asking questions of pursuing alternate studies with a more liberal arts orientation, sending an unintended message that I doubted her abilities.
Today, she is in Arkansas working on an externship project with Texas A&M. I remember the day she walked across the stage to receive her Doctor’s white coat at a special ceremony at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Each step carried its own message: confidence, joy and grace. For a brief moment, I was transported back to the earlier car ride when Nikki was 8 as I questioned her newly found career choice.
“When did you decide to become a Vet?” I asked with paternal curiosity.
As she stared out the car window, deep in thought she replied, “I saw how much they charged to give Benson (our dog) a shot.”
Having choked on the bill myself, I was curious. “How much would you charge?”
She apparently had been mulling this over as she quickly responded “Ten dollars.”
“That seems more than fair.” Somewhere I read that a father or leader’s role in helping those entrusted to us determine direction or calling in life is better accomplished with questions than lectures. In an attempt to show my worldliness (which I still stumble around with what are consistently proven as feeble and futile efforts), I carefully asked, “So what do you charge for birds?”
This I thought would send her packing to her Barbie dolls.
With cold steel eyes of an Old Wild West Poker Player, Nikki turned from the window and calmly replied “Let me get back with you on that.”
Today, she has gotten back.
Not with a price for services, rather with proof on her face that she is capable of pursuing goals and dreams on her own. The time machine has kicked in again, this time to her senior year in high school as she anguished over which university held the keys for realizing her passion. I was filled with uncertainty for her, not on choice of university but how do I protect her if she pursued this dream and did not fare well enough to get accepted by one of the Vet schools in the country? My research had shown that it was harder to get into Vet School than Med School, as there are only 27 schools in the US that offered degrees in Veterinary Science. There are eight students applying for every one spot in Vet School. Nikki had flown through her college prep curriculum, acing English and Social Sciences. While her grades were strong in math and chemistry, Nikki agonized over tests and homework, struggling to do as well as some of her fellow classmates. With fatherly protection I thought “how much easier would it be for her if she pursued a degree not requiring hard sciences.” Nikki confronted me one day when I asked “As good as you are with languages and writing, have you given thought to what you might do in that area?”
Her eyes welled up with tears, her lower lip trembled. “You don’t think I can do this, do you?”
How do I respond? I believed in her. I knew God had blessed her with a wonderful mind. At that moment, with her heart piercing words, He showed me it wasn’t that I was afraid she couldn’t do it. I was terrified she might fail, would be hurt. My job, my worth as a father (or a leader) was to protect her. From the first moment she was placed in my hand shortly after Nikki drew her first breath, every cell in me was programmed to keep her safe from any source of harm. Now I had to step out of the way and let her go down her own path.
The Time Traveler reset to our kitchen the night she returned from the mailbox. Behind her back was an envelope from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, carefully torn open to reveal a letter that could open doors or smash dreams. She was trembling as she read it to me “I’ve been accepted.” The kitchen floor was flooded with tears as my wife Tommie, Nikki and me threw our arms around each other and sobbed. God had blessed her hard work, her dedication, and her faithfulness to prayerfully ask for Him to guide her steps. And He did!
I sat in the Texas A&M auditorium wondering how often do we as parents (or leaders) impose our fears onto other’s lives, instead of releasing them to find their way with our support and guidance instead of control or direction. What if out of love I squashed her dream, held her back from taking a shot? While I’ve made many mistakes, that would have been my greatest failure.
The Time Machine brought me back, as Nikki floated back to her seat. I’m not sure her heels made any sound as she glided across the concrete floor. She looked at the classmates already seated, who had received their coats moments before her. Yet as she turned into her aisle, Nikki looked up to find me with two thumbs up in the air and the same look as the 8-year-old in the car. This time not turning from looking out the car window. This time, she was looking through the window of her future, where her dreams lie.
Is there someone at work or home who your encouragement and belief in them may be just the catalyst needed to fuel their steps into the world of possibility?