A week ago yesterday we hit a milestone – actually my son hit a milestone that jarred him a bit. It was a blustery evening on the football field. We have, over the past decade, had many such nights but this was special in that it signified for Son #1, the end of his life as he now knows it and the beginning of a new life filled with the unfamiliar and unforeseen challenges of adulthood.
We have never been worried about him. When he was born I had an epiphany – this kid is going to do special things. I’m sure I’m not unlike most new fathers who gaze into the milky eyes of their newborn son and think that somehow their offspring is going to be Einstein, Mozart, Jesse Owens, Ghandi and Walter Payton mangled up into a neat Brad Pitt package. But in that moment when I felt his little hand squeeze an index finger and his soft cooing there was and always has been a feeling in my heart that there something special about No. 1. That feeling may not have been as obvious to the rest of the world then nor is it evident that people are aware of it now, but that emotion is still unmistakable to his doting parents.
As we proudly stood together with him on that field alongside his teammates and their parents I recognized that familiar look on his face and the faces of every kid who was being honored that night – the look of a high school senior whose carefree summers, two-a-day football practices, fun-filled days and nights with longtime high school buddies and teammates, smelly locker rooms, bloody noses, dislocated joints and general aches and pains they knew without a doubt that from that day forward, those days were over.
It was the look of longing. A longing for another week of familiarity and the camaraderie that comes with knowing that everything you learned, everything that you felt, every worry, triumph and sorrow ever experienced together and sometimes alone in self-reflection, were now and would always be a threshold that ushered you from that agonizing reality between boyhood and inevitability.
That realization hit him more solidly in the chest just moments after the final buzzer ended his final high school football game. As was customary, we waited for him outside the locker room doors. He came out sobbing as understanding and reality melted away any inhibitions.
“I’ve been doing this since I was eight-years-old,’ he said as we embraced under the waning stadium lights. ‘It’s finally hitting me that I’ll never play another game of football.”
What do you say as a parent, a father, to comfort your child when he’s in obvious shock and when he’s dealing with emotions that he has never had to deal with before?
“This is the first of many endings for you son. But it also means that it’s the start of new things too.”
Really? That’s all you got? Can you come up with something less clinical? Perhaps something more ‘Do it for the Gipper-esque’ would be more appropriate? You got nothing else?
“Thanks dad. I love you.”
“You gonna be alright?”
“Yeah, it’s just sinking in that everything I’ve worked hard for all my life is happening now.”
I can’t recall having a clear perspective or even a good direction in my life at 18-years-old. But if I had to guess at my thought process at that age I would say that I had absolutely no plans of being grown up at that point in my life. I doubted for years that it was possible for anyone that age to be mentally, socially and spiritually prepared to take on the rigors of life. And yet there, standing outside that locker room at that moment holding on to my son I knew that that self-revelation I felt as a biased new father when I held his fragile, newborn body in the hospital were not so crazy after all – he has been special his whole life. His mature response to every question and situation that has been asked of him is a blessing for his mother and I because what parent doesn’t worry for their child?
I am absolutely convinced that he is going to continue to do special things with the life and the talents that he has been blessed with.
I feel the same way about his friends and this generation. I have so much confidence in their potential as individuals. I’ve watched them grow up together, I’ve witnessed firsthand the lessons taught to them by their parents and I know that they are ready to make the transition to adulthood because I know the people that they are becoming every day.
As has been the case for him and for his brothers, we will be celebrating more “firsts” in the coming years. Super Mom and I are also dealing with our own dose of reality – coping with our ‘losses’ as each one of our sons leaves the comfort of our home to strike out on their own and build the life that they are meant to live. I hope No. 1 knows how much we love him and his brothers and that each of them is some kind of special.