Fatherhood – The Sweetest Prison by Michael Thiel

My husband Michael’s youngest daughter is heading off to college in a few weeks. Here he reflects about the bittersweetness a father feels when it’s time for him to let them go be who they are meant to be.

family-485851_1280They think I’m handsome

They think I’m strong

Won’t last forever

Wont even last long

Hearts in the journey

Feet on the road

And I want to be with them as long as they grow

For as long as I go

I’m in lockup. Ya know, The Joint. Up The River. The Parchment Farm. Sing Sing. San Q….

NO- this isnt another letter from an incarcerated felon, looking for a pen pal (or someone with power tools and access to the prison laundry).

Actually, it’s from a dad. OK, a dad with daughters- two of them.

I guess that makes me a repeat offender.

The offense?


The MO?

Willful Impregnation.

The motive?

Seemed like a good idea at the time?

You see, mine was a crime of cluelessness. Not well planned or thought out. The wife said “Let’s have a baby”, and I said “OK”.    I was 42 at the time, and assumed that by then the issue was academic at best. But the trying was fun, the visits to the fertility clinic were weird, and then, in spite of our best efforts- whammo!

Skylar was born 9 months later.    And Kyrra showed up 17 months after that.

Oh yes, once we got the hang of it, we were overachievers!

And at the very first moment I looked in their eyes, with a sound almost perceptible, the door swung easily and snicked closed behind me.

I was a goner…I had entered the Sweet Prison and there was no way out..

Daring young dancers

Racing the stream

You leave enough time to

Discover your dream

Magic and motion

In a quicksilver flow

All that they learn and what do you know

You look at them go

It was all of that- magic…motion…watching them learn, grow, go.                                                                                     And it was so easy.

If I’d been thrown into the slammer, I couldn’t tell.

I was too busy, you see.

With Barbies and birthday parties, and the preschool play, and visits to the local bay, and tidepools and coughs and colds and sleep overs and jokes we told, and girls and boys and first joys and tears, and celebrations and light and serious conversations and all that I would never know if I hadn’t been part of all their growing…

And mine…

And Oh My God I loved them so!

In fact, I had no idea it was even possible to love like that!

Some people told me I was a “great” dad- whatever that meant. What it meant to me was that I was hopelessly helplessly slackjawed stoopid in love and wonder with my children.

This wasn’t hard labor, it was heaven! And I wasn’t ever gonna leave.

But they were

They had to

Growing goes in one direction after all. And that is


Moving right past me

Moving right on

Each day lasts forever

You blink and it’s gone

Light in their eyes

Like stars in the sky

All I can do is to laugh and to cry

As I kiss them goodbye


I finally heard that door slam the other day.   Loud, real and final.  As one of them returned to college for her sophomore year.  And her sister left to begin her own journey and adventure.

And there I was.

In solitary.

And suddenly the walls and bars and guards of that Sweet Prison became clear and real and I realized…

I had no fucking idea what to do

You see, nobody ever teaches us about this.   Nobody ever prepares us for this.

We can read “Doctor Spock” and “What To Expect When Youre Expecting” and how to deal with peanut allergies and what constitutes an offside penalty in soccer (still not sure about that one, by the way) and all the rest of the million things about shepherding the growing up process except for..

How the hell do you stand alone on the wall, at the gate, left behind, and watch them walk into the wonderful wilderness that is their lives?

“How do you let them be what they must become even as you are grieving what they never will be again?”

“How do you transform this sweet prison into the home and hearth that welcomes them back, on their terms, with infinite love and no attachments?”

How do you say “vaya con dios” (and mean it)?

I don’t know if I’m eligible for parole.

Or if  I will be rehabilitated?

Maybe I can get time off for good behavior.

But in my heart, I know I’m a lifer. I’m in this prison for good.

And it has been so very good.   So far.

Lyrics to “All I Can Do” ã Michael Thiel 2008. All rights reserved

Photo Andreas photography/flickr

michael headshot

Born in the Deep South and raised west of Pacific Coast Highway…Michael has spent most of his life Out There.

Lucky for him, he has tethers connecting him back to the (so called) Real World…:

He lives in the world’s most beautiful place.

He’s in love with the world’s most beautiful woman.

He’s the father of the world’s most incredible girls.  He’s been paid to do what he was born to do.   And he’s retired!  So he has the time, energy and inclination to create every day.  He also has the time, energy and inclination not to.  He’s a surfer, not a bowler.  He plays guitar and sings in a little bar a half block from his house.  And sometimes people put bread in his jar.

He almost died…from pancreatic cancer- that’s a bad one.

His family is as dysfunctional as yours.  He has faced black despair.

Sometimes he has no idea what he’s doing here, or why he’s been given this gift of life and love and learning and laughter.

But like the man said: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”

And he is so grateful to be awake.

And awakening.  Right Now.







3 thoughts on “Fatherhood – The Sweetest Prison by Michael Thiel

  1. Excellent essay, Michael! My youngest stepson is leaving for college this month. I’m so overwhelmed with excitement for him heading into his life that I don’t feel like I’m being “left” at all. I’m just following his adventures from the stands. Thanks for your thoughts on parenting. Well said.


  2. Michael you are quite the writer and poet. Beautifully written from the soul and what touched me the most is the love you have for your daughters. One should be so lucky to have such a devoted father.


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