From Boy to Man: A Father's Grateful Blues

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It wasn't until my mid 40s I became a father. And I am glad of it. Fatherhood has brought me more happiness than any other factor in my life. Nothing ties you to the stars more than the birth of your child. Life is no longer just about you; and you find yourself relieved about it.

But late fatherhood is exhausting as well as gratifying. In my late 40s I revisited my own childhood by bringing my son to amusement parks, ballgames, and overnight camping trips. That business. As he grew, I took him to see The Wiggles, acted the cool stoic as I took him on roller coasters that you couldn't otherwise get me to ride at gunpoint, and drove over all creation for his traveling baseball games.

Of course, there were struggles. A few medical emergencies. Divorce. Depression. A move 30 miles away. Getting up at 5 am to drive the 30 miles to his school, and often back for a pickup at 3 p.m. Shared custody it was, and even at half-the-time it wore on me. But those complaints have faded.
He's now a senior is high school. And, mostly to his mother's credit, he's a father's dream.

He towers over his old man by six inches. He takes college prep courses and makes the honor rolls. Like his old man, he's a drummer, though his hands are ablaze against the embers of his father's. Further virtues: He's never been caught drunk at a high school dance (I had); been arrested (I had); or been involved in fisticuffs (I had. Plenty). My son's virtues have left me daily regretting the ordeals I visited upon my parents.

You could say that I am a man grateful for the deliverance from my own legacy, and be right.

This year has seen many changes. He obtained a driver's license and took possession of his grandfather's old Toyota. Between summer travels with his drum corps, the current weight of his classes, and busboy gig--along with all the attendant hubbub of applying to college--he's for the most part graduated from his need for me. And, like what's-her-name says, it's a good thing. But the eponymous Empty Nest Syndrome is a real thing, and I miss him, a son.

Nowadays I feel giddy when he arrives, as if a celebrity has come for a stay. Sometimes, in order to not come across as a cloying wimp, I find myself at a loss for conversation, with a shy lump in my throat. I'm sure it's a condition experienced by many fathers.

During the furies of the kid's early childhood, I often fantasized about graduating from the tedium of parenthood, looking forward to the days of leisure. But just a few years ago I couldn't imagine that the time would arrive so quickly. But it's here, even before he's graduated from high school. And I sit, thinking, Now what? Did I do all right? What did I do well? Where did I fall short? I won't share those particularities, but there is enough of a balance to perhaps call it a draw.

Once, during a rough patch, when I was trying to see his side of an argument, I asked him for the root of our problem. "Well, Dad," he said. "You're so old."

Truth. I'm the age of his friend's grandparents. The gulf in age is a real thing. Nothing to do but accept it.

Sometimes, on my way to the attic (the door is in his room) I'll pause to stare at the remnants of his boyhood: baseball trophies, model race cars, the bookshelf of Harry Potters and "Dairy of a Wimpy Kid." Even "Good Night Moon" is up there, somewhere. In the corner lie two orange boxing gloves with "Sock 'Em!" printed on them, gloves we used to mock- spar with until he reached the age of 10, when he bloodied my nose and damn near knocked me out. I simply cannot part with these markers of his boyhood, a boyhood that is nearly gone.

Lest you think I'm saying everything between us is perfect, allow me to mention the inevitables of teenhood: his monosyllabic answers to my inquiries. How are your classes? "Good." Any problems with any of them? "No." Do you like your instructors? "Yeah, they're okay." I ask how he's getting along with his girlfriend. "Fine." I ask about financial packages for affording college. Is he proceeding? "Yeah". When I ask where he thinks he'll be in a decade, he shrugs, "I don't know. Working."

He's not trying to be rude or mystifying. He's a teenager whose frontal lobe is under construction. Old as I am, I remember being like that. The volubility returns with age and wisdom.

The kid has had a life of good fortune up until now (Good fortune was what Aristotle stated one needed for a good life), and I can only pray for it to continue. A father could lose his mind worrying over every misfortune a son could encounter. I take comfort when I remember that he's got a lot of common sense for a kid his age. And he isn't afraid of life.

For example, when he was four, I took him to the Como Park Amusement Park to take him on rides. We rode the little roller coaster, and I managed not to get sick on the Tilt a Whirl. Then he gestured to the boats. The boat sat in a concrete pool of water and went in circles. On the bow of each of them sat a little bell the kid would ring as the boat circled. After placing the boy in the boat and lowering the safety bar, I caught a glance of the underside of the boat reflecting in the water, and I was instantaneously flooded with memories of these very same boats from 46 years previous. I remember my father lowering me in the boat, and I remember feeling frightened to be alone in it. It had a steering wheel. Where was I supposed to drive it? It began to spin, and I rang the bell in hopes that my father would stop the boat and rescue me. He just laughed at my bell ringing and I felt mortified, in danger, abandoned.

But this kid of mine was having none of those worries. He kept turning the wheel, perhaps with the idea he might steer the little pram down onto Como Lake, where he could find out just how fast this baby could go. This kid of mine wasn't planning to stay in the pool. This was a kid who was going somewhere.