When I started this series of posts a few days ago, I wrote that I thought this might be something of a landmark vacation for The Knucklehead and I. So let’s talk about that for a little bit.
Scooping my boy up and flying us 3000 miles from home may sound like it’s my way of trying to hold onto him for as long as I can, but it isn’t. It’s actually my way of letting him go. He’s 20 years old, just months away from 21, and my role as father – ever-evolving since he was born – is in the midst of a tectonic shift. My place in his life will always remain, even long after I’m gone, but what he needs from me is changing, sometimes more rapidly than we can keep up with. Childhood is a journey from dependency to independence, and along the way our children shed their demands of us, just as they shed the training wheels off their bikes and the gutter guards at the bowling alley. You might be sad about losing those things, or you might take the “loss” for what it is: the sign of a job well done.
I don’t want to cling to my kid’s childhood. I want to take a victory lap. One last spin before the Act II characters of his life take the stage. That’s what this week is all about. A celebration of our relationship before I proudly turn him over to his adult life. There are friends, partners, a career, passions, and (hopefully) a love to turn him over to. There will possibly be children. There will certainly be dogs. I mustn’t be greedy; I mustn’t keep them waiting.
* * *
I’m astonished at The Knucklehead’s independence. For someone who has grown up in the country, where people tend to be suspicious of outsiders and the Outside, he has demonstrated a remarkable interest in the world around him. When an activity or idea engages him, he pursues it without needing the approval of his peers. He has cultivated good friends, and he is a good friend to them, but he is not afraid to seek out life on his own.
In about four weeks, he will be farther away from me than he has ever been before. He is going to Spain for a semester, for really the first time to be beyond the safe reach of family or friends. He’ll immerse himself in a language and culture that is foreign even to me. There is no hiding the nerves he feels as the day approaches. But there is also no hiding the pull of the adventure on him. I don’t think he sees that so clearly. But I do.
I think when I pick my son up from the airport in December, I will not be picking up The Knucklehead that left in August. It’s why I asked for, and am grateful he agreed to, this week together this summer, so I could take a long close look at the boy before he goes. The person who returns will not suspect that he can handle independence; he will be certain of it, having accomplished it. I think this autumn is that important. I think a new young man will return.
And I can’t wait to meet him.
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My job this week, as it has been the last few years, is to celebrate Knucks’ independence. So once again today, he went his way and I went mine, and we dissected our day over a dinner of pot stickers and Pad Thai. While he slept in this morning, I went out for a hearty breakfast (I don’t want to get too adjusted to Pacific Time before I head back), then hit the bricks for Pike’s Market and the Aquarium. I love the Aquarium. I love kids, too, but not together. I like to sit in front of a soothing wall of fish the way you’d take in a Cezanne, but that just ain’t gonna happen unless I hit the place during adult swim. So instead of trying to relax, I got into the spirit of children mashing their faces against the glass and pawing at anemones, and that turned out to be pretty fun, too. I did a little shopping, including a stop at Left Bank Books, where I failed to avoid looking like a middle-aged hick tourist, but had fun anyway.*
The Knucklehead’s day? Walking around, grabbing a pizza lunch, and hanging out in the park. I asked him which park, and he didn’t know the name of it, but as he described it, I realized that he had ended up at Olympic Park.
Just as I had, only the afternoon before.
He spent his time on a bench, lost in a book.
Just like me.
*Never apologize for who you are. Especially not to millennials.