Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cue up the Harry Chapin...

Not to get maudlin, but a thought hit me the other day. My wife had been in contact with St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, PA. She sent me a text to let me know that all of the preparations had been taken care of for an overnight visit for my oldest son, who has been accepted, and wants to decide if St. Vincent's is for him. The thought that hit me squarely between the eyes was that my son was looking at a college. This is one of those moments that causes a cinematic flashback, as the years scroll forward from the moment he was born through to a vision of his graduation from high school. 

I want to see him still as the little person I held in my arms. Who would walk up to me, holding out his arms and saying "up". That's who I remember. I remember his first word ("light", pointing at a street lamp), I remember the first night he slept through the night and scared the hell out of his mother and I. I remember when he vomited on me, and the shock I had looking at the amount that he spewed out. I still think he brought some in from somewhere, there is no way it all sat in his stomach. 

I remember being told by his pre-school teacher that he had read every book in the classroom, after trying fruitlessly to teach him to read; he just picked it up himself somehow. I remember how he devised animal nicknames: my father was a Lion, my sister was a giraffe, his little sister was a bear, his uncle was a wolf, and his little brother was a little wolf, sister number two was the mouse. There was no rhyme or reason why these names were apportioned, they just fit. 

I remember when we learned that he had been diagnosed as a high-functioning asperger's child, and working through what that would mean. And how much working with him would ill-prepare us for the more comparatively normal adolescence of his younger sister. I remember marveling at his depth of knowledge of Star Wars and Walt Disney, how he had his dinosaur phase like any young boy, and how quickly he picked up fire building in Boy Scouts. 

Looking at him now, he is taller than me, built more like his maternal grandfather than me, with thick dark hair like his mother. He is thoughtful and quiet, but will often say things that catch you by their originality. He makes up jokes. He writes constantly. He has a propensity for puns. He knows his faith. He knows how to do laundry. He can fry an egg and, when pushed, clean up afterwards. He does his best to guide is baby brother, sometimes well, sometimes not. 

I look at him now, and I am amazed that I am his father, and I hope that  I can take some credit for it. Years ago I was struck with another stunning realization: the organic nature of families. Looking at my baby, I realized that, at some point, he would be a man, with a family, and he would teach them the things they needed to know to move out into the world and form families of their own. He would go from being a son to a father to a grandfather, and our family would continue. I will die, my wife will die, my children in their time will die as well, but our family will continue, branching out and reaching places we haven't yet envisioned. 

At this point, he stands on a threshold, ready to make a first big decision: where to go to further his education and prepare himself as an adult in the world. He will make new friends, he will see new things, unfiltered by the input of his parents. He will build up experiences that will shape him as an adult in this brave new world. I debate within myself who will have the hardest time with this, my wife or I. At this point, on a snowy evening in February, thinking of the days to come, I feel nervous at letting go of that little hand that so often sought mine out. When time comes to let go and see him become a man, I fear I won't have the courage. 

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