Parenting Blog

I Let Her Fail But She Was Determined To Succeed

Failure and Success

I’ve written it many times before, here and elsewhere, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but that profoundly simple Frederick Douglass quote has been my mantra for decades and as such, it is a line I deliver often today as dad to a pair of impressionable daughters, daughters who sometimes struggle with the concept of struggle just as I did when I was around their age.

At 12, I was a wannabe chef who wanted only to do, and do immediately, without the hard sledding of life experience, of training, of starting out as a dishwasher. I want to pass GO and collect $200 without a single delay. I longed to prepare, plate and present Duck a L’Orange to sophisticated dinner guests without ever having seen the dish in real life, let alone taste it.

So I get it. I know where my children are right now.


She did what so many of us do and then when her due date was moved out until after the four day weekend, she did it again. It’s hard to get angry at her procrastination. In a way she mirrors the way I will, at times, operate as a writer. I peck and I nibble, a little bit here, a burst there; a stray thought, an isolated well-turned phrase, an upward strand of something vaguely resembling a narrative arc, before eventually surging toward the finish line propelled by the jet fuel cocktail of nervous energy and fear of failure. I am never late but I do tend to be flamboyantly punctual.

It was a five paragraph persuasive paper; an opening, 3 separate points to make the case, and a conclusion. Neat & tidy. But at 8pm before the (new) morning it was due to be handed over to her Language Arts teacher, the finished article was barely half a rough draft. By 8:50, so little progress had been made that I told her, “enough, you are going to have to explain to your teacher that you didn’t finish and ask for an extra day at whatever cost to your grade.” She said, through the genesis of tears, that it was either on time or it would be given a zero. So be it, kid. You made this bed, now lie in it. And seriously, go lie in your actual bed and get some sleep. Harsh, maybe, but I’ll point you to that quote again. She must know struggle and failure in order to someday succeed.

Someday came sooner than I expected.

The next morning, pre-dawn on due date day, she was awake before anyone else, well before 6am, bedroom light on, door closed, furiously working to finish her paper. At 8:03, as we approached her school door for dropoff, she put down the final period in pencil lead. Before she bolted, I gave it a quick once-over. It was a solid paper, well constructed and thoughtful. No spelling errors.

She felt embarrassed enough, I’m guessing, the night before as her mom and her dad watched her fail, and probably could easily envision even more welled up tears and visible disappointment in front of her classmates and her teacher, so she struggled through, on her own, to find success. It was impossible not to be proud of her grit and work ethic, last minute or not. She showed the Mrs and I, but more importantly proved to herself, what she’s really made of that morning. And I found yet another reason to adore and respect my oldest child. I love knowing that this fire is inside her.

Being a missed alarm clock ring away from netting a zero on her first serious writing assignment of 6th grade wasn’t ideal, obviously, but also obvious is that she did rise up to meet the challenge she willingly put on herself. What I’ll wait to see now is what happens next, when a similar situation arises, when the next paper or project is assigned. This being 6th grade in 2015, that should be within a day or so.

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