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Opinion: Why parenthood is the toughest leadership challenge

Our oldest baby bird, Kyron Streete, has flown the nest.

I recently watched him take his oath. He barked out responses. Sharpened his face. Snapped a sharp salute and then with an “at ease” command, stood with his legs apart and the top of his hands pressed against his lower back. His elbows formed wings under his shoulders.

I couldn’t help remembering him as an 18-month old, bare-chested in a diaper struggling to bite a droopy piece of pizza. Now, I’m a Navy dad, and I’m hoping my most important exercise of leadership – leadership as a parent – has prepared him to face the world.

The word “prepared” presents such contradictions for us parents. We try to prepare our children for life but sometimes find ourselves woefully unprepared for their actual departure. We blinked back tears thinking about this first 10 weeks he’s spending away from us in basic training, unable to call home.

I saw this young man in front of me, with his neat moustache and tuft of chin whiskers, but still saw his baby face floating in there, too. As a tot, he had a round head with all of his features squeezed into the center of his face.

He was such a happy baby.

Kyron Streete

One Christmas shopping trip, he held court in a department store. As the store’s pianist played “Jingle Bells,” he adorably replaced “oh, what fun,” with “oh, MUCH fun” in front of a crowd of smiling adults. He sang a lot. The Wiggles. Nursery rhymes. Even Jay-Z: “I love girls, girls, girls, girls … ”

He’s also always had style. As a 2-year-old, he sported an earring, a necklace and a teeny ring on his right hand. He wore a black leather coat with a fur collar.

We attended his plays and his graduations. We celebrated his award for drawing a perfect little cow in an art contest. At one point, we made several, late-night trips to the ER anxious for his stubborn, 103-degree fever to break.

Maybe more than our other children, he’s the most like me. He’s an introspective observer. It has been a joy to watch him land his first job, become a responsible, bill-paying adult and see his talent for photography bloom.

We are thrilled for this opportunity, but sad that as a young Black man, he’s safer in the military handling munitions and facing down international threats than he is driving home at night from the gym. 

Marty Linsky, a longtime adviser to the Kansas Leadership Center, taught us to hold relentlessly to purpose while holding open the possibility that we might have to let go one day.

That’s where we are with Ky. No one ever told me it would be this difficult.

But I’m looking forward to my appearance in tear-jerker military reunion videos where men and women in uniform return and surprise shocked loved ones, who dissolve into tears at the sight of their returning heroes.

He seemed fine as we dropped him off. Happy even.

He’s been ready all along.

Maybe he should have prepared us.

Mark McCormick previously served as editor of The Journal.

 

Summer edition Journal cover about civics

A version of this article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.

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