“Dad, will you listen to me play? I want to know if ‘A’ is better than ‘B.’” This request to listen comes as my daughter plays an excerpt for her college chair audition that will take place in a few weeks.

Hearing the two choices, I chose “B” and suggested that she needs to get her bow more into the string for either one of them to work.

When she signed up for violin lessons as a four year old, it was going to be a mother-daughter project. I did not read music then and fourteen years later, I still do not. Mother was to go to the lessons and supervise practice. By the end of the first year, we understood this was not working very well.

The choice was for me to take her to lessons, write lesson notes, so her mother could oversee practice. It quickly became apparent that if you were not at the lessons, my account of what happened and what needed to take place during practice did not make any sense. It was a problem in part with my note taking and in part a matter that neither parent had ever played a violin. The frustration level went up for parents and child (and probably the teacher also). When two legs of the Suzuki triangle are not working together, you can be sure that the result is frustration rather than satisfactory growth.

Reluctantly, I committed to being a Suzuki father. I drove her to lessons, drove her home and supervised practice. We spent hours together.

We talked nonsense, theology, philosophy, science, and peer relationships. I listened. She listened. I asked questions and so did she.

She had an open mind, exploring the limits of what she was learning at school, church and home. She read, then read some more. More than once, I heard her say in the car, “Why didn’t they tell me that in class?” “Are you sure?” “What does (insert a word of your choice three syllables or longer) mean?” When she got older, she would look out the car window and ask, “Where are we?” Usually she asked this about a place we had gone past multiple times a week for years, but she had not noticed because she had her nose in a book.

Violin lessons and the ensuing practice taught her patience, the discipline of working toward skill development, and the sensation of accomplishment when she learned a new piece and performed it. Soon, very soon, she knew more about the technical aspects of playing violin and reading music than her parents did.

Even so, it was not time for me to quit going to lessons. My function was somewhere between a coach and a cheerleader. All the while, I was learning new parenting skills.

First, I learned that I could not make her succeed. It was her effort and work that brought accomplishment. I needed to be there beside her, but she was doing the work.

Second, I learned not to invest myself too much. Whatever was happening or not happening was not about me, it was about her growth musically and as a person.

Third, failure is not a bad thing in a lesson, a performance or in relationships. No matter what, she is my daughter; she has a life bigger than my relationship with her. I have a life that is larger than my relationship to her. My wife, the mother of this child, ranks first for me before our child, enabling our daughter to have a secure emotional place to overcome what feels like defeat. A larger extended family surrounds us with love. Adults in our faith community actively support her development and walk with us as her parents. The Suzuki teacher, orchestra leaders and small practice groups have as their focus the child. When there are moments that relationships come apart or a lesson or performance fails, new learning is possible with fresh strategies woven into the fabric of her development.

Fourth, the other adults at work in her life have freed me to do my tasks as parent. As such, I set limits and provide opportunity. I give love. I listen. I remain silent when she asks questions that she needs to discover the answers to and not be spoon fed, though silence is not my best virtue. I am neither her peer nor her only teacher. My role is to be an adult, to be her father.

Fifth, with my child’s development toward adulthood, the fact that she has confidence in her decisions and accomplishment in music performance enables her to find appropriate guidance as she maturates in faith, future career, money management, etc. My present task is to open my arms and allow her to step away from our nuclear family while leaving the door open for her return visits.

We have been practicing this process since she began taking lessons at age four. The process of studying violin using the Suzuki method and philosophy is integral to the way our family functions.

If she continues to play the violin as either vocation or avocation, she knows that it is not the only dimension of her life. She is more than a violinist and musician.

If she packs her violin today and never plays it again, it will not negate anything that has happened in the last fourteen years. The process of facing a task, overcoming perceived personal limitations and discovering new skills are life lessons foundational to a whole and satisfying adulthood. She has discovered a way forward and practiced it in a safe environment.

I am a better parent for having been a Suzuki father.