At summer's end: How Riley, Will and Alex taught their father these three fundamental truths

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The curtain falls (if not officially, at least in the traditional sense) on the summer of 2018 this week.

Ever since I was a child, Labor Day has been a celebratory but sad day of lasts: Final trips and dips to the pool and beach, end-of-season backyard barbeques and ballgames.

The ever-so-slightly changing weather and lengthening shadows always packed a poignant punch.

As something of a balm on the burn, the prospect of a new school year always provided some solace – the chance to see old friends and settle back into familiar routines.

In this highly polarized and politicized culture, children remind us that our common humanity is what holds us together.

But the reality of summer's slow fade and its final serenade still stung – and still does.

If you ask me, summer is one of God's many great gifts and creations and one of His best ideas yet.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s nearly 94 days in length, five days longer than winter, and a day or so longer than spring and autumn.

For many, it’s a highly emotive and nostalgic season, with warm air giving way to a lifetime of memories – of vacations, camps and slower days and simpler times.

Walking through these last few months with our own boys, now 13, 8 and 6, has afforded me the privilege of recapturing some of summer’s magic and mystique. In fact, without even knowing it, Riley, Will and Alex have taught and reminded their father of some fundamental and foundational truths.

1. Just Swing. Don’t Be Afraid to Strikeout: I had the pleasure of coaching our oldest son’s baseball team this summer. Riley’s squad was a delightful mixture of talent and potential. We were the epitome of mediocrity, finishing 7-8, but advancing to the semi-finals of the end-of-season tournament, where we lost.

Early in the season, Riley fell into a slump, striking out several times each game. His problem, though, wasn’t that he couldn’t hit the ball – the problem was that he wasn’t swinging at all. Fearful of getting hit, he watched pitch after pitch go by. At last, he began swinging – and he began hitting.

How often are we guilty of the same thing, afraid to commit to the relationship, apply for the job, launch the business, pursue a lifelong dream?

As hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

2. There are no strangers – only friends you haven’t yet met: Will is our middle child and the life of every party. At 8 years of age, he has no filter and will tell you whatever is on his mind.

Within minutes of arriving at our neighborhood YMCA pool, a favorite summer destination, he’s met a new friend. They’ll spend hours together in the water, diving, searching, sliding and exploring. It doesn’t matter what gender, race, creed or color, if you’re willing to play, Will welcomes you with open arms.

In this highly polarized and politicized culture, children remind us that our common humanity is what holds us together.

It’s possible and good to enjoy the company of someone different than ourselves. After all, as the English writer C.S. Lewis once eloquently opined, “Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.”

3. Go Ahead and Eat the Ice Cream Cone: Alex, our youngest, has a real sweet tooth and especially loves ice cream. There’s a local shop a block from the pool and he will regularly ask to go there after a swim.

My parents were raised during the Great Depression, and so as a result, our trips for ice cream were usually reserved for special occasions. So, I initially checked myself, not wanting to be the over indulgent parent. But a kid’s cone in this shop is just $1.50 – and so, it quickly became apparent to me that the happiness he received in exchange for a single scoop was well worth the miniscule expenditure. Plus, the memories we’ve made in that shop will surely last a lifetime.

It’s easy to pass up simple pleasures because of old habits. Maybe you’ve wanted to take that trip, buy that painting or even treat yourself to dessert in the midst of a diet. Go ahead. Life is short. The quality of splurge will be remembered long after the cost of it is forgotten.

Each life has a finite number of summers, of course, and childhood has even fewer of them still.

A friend once observed that there is something deep within us that sobs at endings, even happy ones like the close of summer.

Yet, here our children are teaching us again. That’s because though they may be sad to take that last outdoor swim on Labor Day, they’re nevertheless filled with great expectations, ready and eager for the next adventure.

And so should we.