A pair of hawks, probably Cooper’s hawks, command the sky over my backyard and the surrounding acres. I spotted their nest high in an old oak across the street. I’m sure they are a mating pair, although at first, I thought maybe they were a hen teaching her fledgling to hunt. I actually thought that until two minutes ago when I looked up the breed and found out any hawks would only have eggs right now or, more likely, an empty new nest.
So, not a mother teaching a child to hunt or a father teaching a child to soar like I wanted it to be. What I’ve been seeing is likely courtship, nest building, pair bonding. I wanted to extend a metaphor about teaching children to soar and take care of themselves; about the joy of flying and learning and beauty. I had planned to beat that metaphor to death.
I continue to watch them, the hawks, even though I can’t mold them into the symbol I wanted them to become. They fly down again and land on a low branch on a maple not 20 feet from my window. They stand close together and … well. Their tails are red, one more than the other. Dammit, they aren’t even Cooper’s hawks; they are the much more common red-tailed hawk.
Now I won’t be able to share this quote from a college commencement speech Mr. Rogers gave so many years ago:
“In fact, from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”
It’ll be hard to work in how those hawks made me think of this quote as I saw one take off and then the other and watched them soar and swoop in the cold February sky, thinking the whole time them parent and child. The effort and the ease of it, the work and then the reward of it all.
What better way to learn to circle through the sky than experiencing another doing it with you, showing it to you?
How can I say, now that the metaphor has failed, that we are like those beautiful hawks, we parents? I look to the wild and see labor of love. Nature doesn’t tell herself about love and ability, she uses no words, explains nothing, just as we cannot explain what love is, what a song or a story or laughter is.
“Smiled you into smiling,” a past tense verb leading to the present tense. And there, I think, is the essence of it all. Love must be a verb, teaching must be verb, parenting and mentoring, action verbs.
That means that we labor to show our children these things.
The first time I encountered the Rogers quote, I continued the thought in my mind.
When I see my nearly 14-year-old son honor someone, I know that I honored him.
When his twin brother marches up to me after an event at the school and says, “Dad, I broke my glasses,” I know his mother and I honested him into the truth.
A kind word to a classmate, is the kind word offered to them.
We laughed them into laughing, held them into holding, dreamed them into dreaming, cried them into crying, shined them into shining.
One of the hawks sends a shadow across the backyard. Maybe I wasn’t as wrong as I thought I was. Perhaps, now that I know they are just a pair of birds, what I noticed was the action of them, always above, on the hunt, always watching.
I probably won’t see when their nestlings are hatched and fed and ready to leave; the first fall from the nest; won’t see the wings open and watch as the wind fills them as they glide away. But I see it now, don’t I? I see it in the flaps and dives of these two birds, these parents.
Just as I see me, my wife, teachers, leaders, friends … you, mirrored in the hearts and souls of my sons, your daughters, our children.
We’ve shown them into showing.
Graced them into grace.
Hoped them into hope.
Flown them into flying.
Watched them into watching.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Peebles left a 30-year career in the restaurant business to become a stay-at-home dad to twin boys. He writes a blog, I Hope I Win a Toaster, that makes little sense. He coaches sometimes, volunteers at the schools, plays guitar, and is a damn good homemaker. He believes in hope, dreams, and love … but not computers.