Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday
When they were small?
Swiftly flow the days,
Seedlings turn overnight to
Blossoming even as we gaze.
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and
– “Sunrise, Sunset,” from “Fiddler on the Roof”
Those lyrics from one of the most poignant songs from the classic Broadway hit and movie “Fiddler on the Roof” are sung by Tevye and Golde as they brace for the impending marriage of their oldest daughter Hodel to Perchik. You don’t have to be marrying off a child to shed a few tears whenever you hear “Sunrise, Sunset.”
A graduation, from high school or college, will do nicely, thank you.
Neither fathers nor mothers are immune from feeling both pride and sadness when hearing those lyrics. The song came to mind several hours after seeing my oldest daughter walk across the Bridgewater State University stage last month.
Some of the feelings came from the knowledge that, even as Arianna has blossomed into a responsible adult, her dad isn’t getting any younger. Instead of sitting in on story-planning sessions at my former job in the rapidly changing newspaper field, I’m retired and watching both of my daughters grow into young women who make me proud.
The graduation also prompted the need to answer an uncomfortable question for parents: Where has the time gone?
Indeed, as Golde and Tevye lament in “Fiddler,” the years and images fly by way too quickly – and that’s been especially true in my daughter’s case.
One moment, my wife and I are being picked up at Logan Airport on the way home from China after adopting Arianna at 15 months. The next, we’re picking her up at T. F. Green Airport, one week before her college graduation, upon her return from a student-teaching stint in Quito, Ecuador.
One year, we’re dropping her off at preschool, and in what seemed only a year later, we were at her high school graduation.
For several years, we dutifully schlepped her to Hebrew School and synagogue for Bat Mitzvah lessons. A few short years later, we found ourselves moving her into her Bridgewater State freshman dorm.
We took her to dance school, recitals and to jobs before she could drive, and then – before you know it – she’s driving herself to college and juggling several summer and part-time jobs to pay for that education.
In one instant, I’m doing my best to take her to all of the activities that she was enrolled in as an almost 6-year-old while my wife was in China adopting our second daughter, Alana. In the next instant, she’s sharing photos from Ecuador of her zip-lining excursion, and accompanying her gray-haired Dad to a mid-week PawSox game at McCoy Stadium.
Then it happens: In the one day that you’ve always dreamed about, you’re in the audience as your daughter’s name is read out loud at her college graduation. “Arianna ShenYao Kessler, cum laude,” the faculty member read.
That moment seems surreal, and you keep your eyes glued to the monitor and the stage so as not to miss seeing her being handed that diploma. You don’t cry, because about an hour earlier, the guest speaker, William Richard, the father of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, spoke from the heart to the graduates. He talked about his son’s now-famous message on the sign he held up at that marathon, “No More Hurting People,” which became a worldwide cry for peace.
It’s hard to shed tears of joy while Richard and his wife, Denise, who suffered the most unthinkable loss that parents could ever endure, have responded to their pain with so much dignity and courage.
The Richards, both BSU grads, have inspired parents by starting the Martin Richard Charitable Foundation, the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice on the Bridgewater campus, and the Martin Richard Challenger Sports Program. This fall Martin’s Park will open in downtown Boston.
About the only thing you can do in response is to find your new graduate taking pictures with her friends and sister, give her a big hug and pose for a family photo op that was 22 years in the making.
LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.