I'm sitting here at my dining room table drinking a cup of coffee out of my cup that says, "Coffee makes me poop" and reflecting on a day that is close to halfway between my son's (8/25) and my (8/6) birthdays. Why is that relevant? Because on August 25th my youngest son will be 18. He will officially be an adult in the eyes of the law. He is not my biological son but I have raised him for the majority of his life. He has a great relationship with his biological father and has had many role models in his life. But his dad has been me. Today, August 16th, my son drove away with my wife (just a ride along for her) to head to Grand Canyon University. He will be a man. It is crazy to think of it that way but it is the truest of truths. He is responsible for his own actions now. It is crazy. I said I was reflecting so let me get to the nitty-gritty, shall I?
Back in 2003, I met a girl in a night club. She and one of her friends knew my buddy I was out with that night. After initial hellos we all parted ways. Thirty minutes later I find her again and we dance. We dance and we dance. In fact, for the rest of the night she danced with me. As my buddy and I left the club after closing we walked her and her friends to her SUV. She offered to give us a ride to my go-kart (also known as a Ford Focus hatchback). We moved her son's car seat and piled into her SUV. As she drove the few blocks up I chimed that I was being raped by goldfish which had been under the car seat and now all over me. After we parked near my car, we laughed and I joked about it more. I kissed her goodbye and we made plans for the next day. That girl is my wife Keziah. The goldfish culprit was her 2 year old Trae. That was my intro to who would be my son.
As I sat back down, I took a break to play with the pressure washer the wife bought me for my birthday. I thought about what represents my thoughts right now. The picture you see is of myself, Keziah and Trae at Legoland in California. I believe it is the first group picture of us before Keziah and I were married. I remember this because Trae went into the store just to the left of Keziah (with his mom) and wanted something. I stayed out because there were too many people inside. When they came out Trae had a toy (might be the Ax he is holding in the pic but I'm not sure) and Keziah said he got you something too. What I got was a Darth Vader Lego dude for my motorcycle keys. I'm laughing now just thinking about it. Darth is long gone now but that is the first time I remember knowing we would be a family someday. I had to convince Keziah but it worked out in the end.
My son drove away today. I ran off to work this morning and he was still sleep. I didn't go and wake him. I left that to his mother. They would be gone by time I got done with class. I wouldn't hug him and say I'm proud of you before he hit the road. That isn't how our relationship goes. I don't expect him to call me every week and tell me the wonderful or not-so-wonderful adventures he got himself into. That will be for his mother. I will not expect it nor will I need it because I am his father. He has learned life from a lot of people but this blog is about what I have learned in the 16 years I have known the little dude in the picture and what it means, in my opinion, to be a father.
No better picture can explain what I see my role as a father. First, I have to protect my child (son, in this case). I have to teach him the right and wrongs of danger. When he isn't aware, I have to be. When he is unsure I have to reassure him. When he is afraid I have to show him that fear is not going to win. I have to teach him how to be, as I see it, a man.
In this picture we are obviously not in danger but we got to play and be silly and make Keziah smile and laugh. He learned to respect where he was and to understand that it can be dangerous. He also learned that I, and his mother too, will be there when he needs us to help him not to save him from himself. We taught him independence without being too prideful to ask for help. There is comfort in the knowledge that the young kid standing in Legoland will be a young independent man. He doesn't "need" us but he knows we are there if and when he might.
He drove away knowing what he wants to be, knowing where he wants to go, has a plan to attain them all and understands that all best plans can be changed instantly. He drove away into a life that is his to make. He drove into a new world that neither I or his mother can build for him. We can advise and help but it is his and his alone to build. It makes me think about our many adventures but more so all the lessons I got to impart on him. That is my other job as a father. To give him what I have learned, and hopefully he can apply it better, wiser and avoid the pitfalls that I fell into as a young world builder. He drove away to be a man.
Over the years we have done father and son stuff. We went full "Walmart" in our pajamas. He risked his life being a redshirt down on the planet in our Startrek onesies. We even rocked Christmas like elf rockstars. For the record, my boxers have bells on them. Or tying a bow tie for his dance. That's what reflection is as a father. It's all the times you get to connect with your kid and teach him something he doesn't realize is a lesson.
His mom hugged him all the time. She showed him endless love and an open door to talk about everything. She celebrates his small achievements and large with the same proud momma enthusiasm. He goes to her for comfort and compassion. Yes, he can get all that from me but his mother is the heartbeat and warm place he knows he is protected. He had to drive away with her into his first full steps into manhood.
His father hugged him occasionally and hardly ever uttered the words "I love you, son." Now, some will see that and think that is tragic or wrong. It isn't. My son didn't have to say he loved me nor did he have to hear it because it was shown. I showed him in my way. From sitting in hospital beds to staying up all night playing stupid tank games. From teaching him how to deal with situations rather than run to us to fix it for him. Like his mom, I told him I loved him excessively just a different way. That is what (this) fathers do.
As I reflect on what I needed him to know before he went out into the world, I found this picture
from a trip we took to New Zealand. As a father (And mother too, I am sure.) I want my son to stand in front proudly, confidently and take on whatever challenges he faces. He has his parents behind him in case he is unsure of what he needs, if he needs advice or if he just wants to rock the onesies and watch TV but overall he stands on his own. And that is where reflection has taken me to this one point.
Today, I am proud to have raised a young man who believes in himself, cares for others, is compassionate, honest and giving. He made his choices for school and career. He will stand in his own light not in anyone else's shadow. He is my son. He is his mother's son. He is his father's son. He is his step-mother's son. And, he has made us proud. My job was to teach him that he didn't need the nest and that he could go anywhere and everywhere without being tethered to it. That job has been done. Now onto his next adventure. But first one last trip with mom to see her baby boy away.
Today our young boy drove away. In a few days his mother will leave the boy behind and watch the man walk into the world. As a father, I am proud!