Your children are not your children


Nine months and two weeks’ worth of our daughter, September 2004.

We had the great good fortune last night to attend a performance of Chanticleer, the men’s choral ensemble. Every December the San Francisco-based group finishes up a national holiday touring schedule with local performances. Thanks to the devotion of the Gramma and the GrandBaba, our extended family is making it a seasonal tradition to attend their performance at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Listening to the perfection of their voices, both as soloists and as a seamless choral whole, it’s hard not to hear the divine. To me, though, this is not so much a theistic divine, but a spiritual connection to the ineffable for which some people can make themselves vehicles.

When I finally heard soprano Kiri Te Kanawa in recital, I heard the same thing: sonic perfection, for which the singer was not originator, but vehicle. For the first of several encores, she sang one of Strauss’ Four Last Songs (her recording of these made me fall in love with her voice twenty years earlier). At one point she was holding a note, and for the duration of that held note, the entire hall was transported. It felt like it was no longer Dame Kiri who was singing, but the note itself, and we all, for those moments, were experiencing the sound, A-flat, in its breathtaking perfection.

My beloved saw Baryshnikov dance in New York in the early 1990s, and thought the same thing. She — then at The Neighbhorhood Playhouse and an ardent student of artistic accomplishment — realized while watching him that he had polished his technique to such a brilliant sheen that he was capable of transcending his own individual genius, becoming instead a vehicle for something larger than himself. The dance. The human body. Neither one the sole posession of the dancer.

It’s hard to describe, but it makes sense to me.

I’ve never attempted the performing arts, as an adult singing for only a short time with a community-based women’s chorus. I know we never approached the burnished perfection of Chanticleer, but each time we sang at least I was transported. My favorite song was a version of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “On Children,” a treatment of the Khalil Gibran poem.

In a dozen short lines, this poem manages to convey something which is as close as my beloved and I have to a roadmap for our parenthood. It helps us immensely that our children could only come to us with the help of others. Our children are not only our children, even if we may manage this legally and socially. We know we do not posess them. They are — as are all of our children — each their own perfect song. Divine.

Here’s a link to the Sweet Honey recording courtesy Ritualwell.org (Music by Ysaye M. Barnwell, © 1980 Barnwell’s Notes Publishing; recorded by Sweet Honey In The Rock® on “Selections.” Used by permission of the composer.) The text below is Sweet Honey’s, imperceptibly tweaked from The Prophet.

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but they are not from you and though they are with you
They belong not to you
You can give them your love but not your thoughts
They have their own thoughts
You can house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit not even in your dreams
You can strive to be like them
But you cannot make them just like you
Strive to be like them
But you cannot make them just like you

Happy Solstice, happy last night of Hanukkah, Merry Christmas. God bless us every one.

6 Responses to Your children are not your children

  1. konagod December 23, 2006 at #

    Happy Solstice to you as well, Lesbian Dad. Longer days from here on out! Well…until the summer solstice!

  2. LesbianDad December 23, 2006 at #

    Longer, and sweeter, we can only hope! Glad tidings back to you, KG.

  3. maurinsky December 23, 2006 at #

    Beautifully written, and I know exactly what you mean.

    My daughter’s a capella group at school sings this piece, and they’ve paired it up with another Sweet Honey in the Rock piece, Wanting Memories.

  4. LesbianDad December 23, 2006 at #

    Thank you, maurinsky. I’m happy to know it resonates. A friend of mine uses another similar guide for her parenthood: she thinks about everything she does as both a prayer, and as a lesson for her kids. When she’s driving, and is tempted to brandish her fist at some other driver, she thinks: this what I’m doing, it is a prayer for what? And: this what I’m doing, which lesson am I teaching my daughters? Not easy to hold fast to, 24/7, year in & year out. But it’s worth a try.

    What a beautiful thing, to hear a youth a capella group singing that song!

  5. LookyDaddy December 24, 2006 at #

    Happy Holidays, LD. Hope it finds you and yours happy and healthy.

  6. annz December 25, 2006 at #

    The best of the season to you LD, and to your beloved, the Lil’ Monkey and the /’new/’ kid on the block – still inside for the time being, (and hoping he stays there for a few more days at least!).

    Wonderful photo, and beautifully expressed meditation on the poem and song.

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