I Can’t Spare My Son His Struggles, But I Can Be There When He Triumphs

Sep 26, 2018 12:00:00 AM


The other day, I had to drag my son kicking and screaming into kindergarten. His anxiety had taken over, his mind spinning in perseveration. Kindergarten was too fast. Recess was too short. The cafeteria was too loud. And my heart broke. What nobody told me, but what surely every parent knows, is that [pullquote position="right"]aiding one’s children through childhood brings us back to our own childhood years.[/pullquote] Seeing my son struggle, painful as it was, was made even more so because it brought to mind my own struggles with anxiety, depression and panic. Trying to soothe my boy, I was transported decades back in time.

I Saw My Own Pain in My Son’s Struggle

There I was, a terrified boy, probably 10 or so, hiding in bathrooms, trying to breathe, convinced of my own eventual insanity. There I was, a quiet boy trying to avoid the notice of the older kids. Refusing to get out of the car to go into day camp. Paralyzed with fear at being called upon to present in front of the class. The fear, anguish and despair of those early years, for indeed those were the emotions I felt, were as visceral as they had been all those years ago. All that I had hoped to have left behind came rushing back, cascading down the trauma-lined synapses of my brain. So it was with extreme pain that I saw my oldest son struggle, saw his eyes water and his lower lip quiver. I saw my pain in him. My fear, hopelessness and, above all, the desire to simply be safe at home, knowing full well that that was the one place I wouldn’t be allowed to go. But, as ever, [pullquote position="left"]there is sunlight after darkness.[/pullquote] So when I stood there to pick him up after school, and I saw his smiling face come around the bend, I was reminded of the staggering strength of our young people, these little humans in their little bodies navigating a world so large and loud. I was reminded, yet again, that life is struggle, and woe would it be for me to envision my role of father as he who spares my son the experiential power of struggle. I knelt down to hug him. I squeezed him and looked in his eye. “You did it!” I said. “Yup!” he replied, with the infuriating and inspiring matter-of-factness of a 5-year-old. We held hands as we walked home. I mined for the details of his day. And I envisioned that future day when my son held hands with a young child of his own, feeling the irrepressible heartache that is a parent’s love for their child.
Photo courtesy of Zachary Wright.

Zachary Wright 

Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating classes. Wright was a national finalist for the 2018 U.S. Department of Education's School Ambassador Fellowship, and he was named Philadelphia's Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2013. During his more than 10 years in Philadelphia classrooms, Wright created a relationship between Philadelphia's Mastery Schools and the University of Vermont that led to the granting of near-full-ride college scholarships for underrepresented students. And he participated in the fight for equitable education funding by testifying before Philadelphia's Board of Education and in the Pennsylvania State Capitol rotunda. Wright has been recruited by Facebook and Edutopia to speak on digital education. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he organized demonstrations to close the digital divide. His writing has been published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Citizen, Chalkbeat, Education Leadership, and numerous education blogs. Wright lives in Collingswood, New Jersey, with his wife and two sons. Read more about Wright's work and pick up a copy of his new book, " Dismantling A Broken System; Actions to Close the Equity, Justice, and Opportunity Gaps in American Education"—now available for pre-order!

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