Home for the Holiday

Our story thus far:

When The Knucklehead was four years old, his mom moved him from the Washington DC area to a rural Pennsylvania town, the one in which she grew up and her family remained. I moved there as well, because, A) I was the only dad The Knucklehead was ever going to have, B) he was the only Knucklehead I was ever going to have, and, C) whaddayagonnado? Tho’ central PA was not my cuppa (I’d spent much of my life there as well), I resolved to hunker down and get to work being a dad. This I did, and our adventures are chronicled elsewhere in this blog.

Seventeen years passed.

During that seventeen years I never once, not for a day, felt anything but gratitude that I was able to stay at hand in my son’s life. But Pennsylvania didn’t feel at home to me. Even when I fell in love, and felt ensconced in someone’s heart, when I walked out my front door, I felt alien in my son’s town. Living in a place where you feel like an outsider is discouraging, and over time, wearying. Two promises I rolled between my fingers like rosaries kept me going: a promise to my son to stay put while he needed me. And a promise to myself that when my son was old enough, I’d move somewhere I wanted to be, not stay in a place where someone else assigned me.

Last April circumstances cleared the path west. With The Knucklehead winding down his junior year of university, I headed to a new life in Olympia, Washington – you can revisit the first day of Mr. Knucklehead’s Wild Ride here. One promise fulfilled, another undertaken.

And I believe that brings us up to speed.

* * *

In just under two weeks, I’m going to pick up My Knucklehead at SeaTac airport for his first visit to my new home on the West Coast. Correction – our new home on the West Coast, because wherever I am, my son will always have a home. Am I thrilled? You betcha. I’m taking off the first week in January to hang with the kid. It’s been 8 months since I’ve seen my boy – the longest by far the two of us have ever been apart. He’s coming home.

But he’s coming to a home he doesn’t know yet, a home that I’m just beginning to get a feel for myself. And he’s coming home at the cusp of his adult life, straight off the penultimate semester of his undergrad career, not yet knowing what will follow. As I’m settling in, he’s setting his sights on… where? He’s not sure. And after a semester in Grenada and an internship in London, it’s not unreasonable to consider the world, and not just North America, The Knucklehead’s oyster. And in what field will my boy make his adult debut? In which of his three majors – if any? – will my boy set his sights? Film? Math? Spanish? It’s great to have choices, but an abundance of choice can be debilitating. I suspect, contrary to his father’s assurances, he’s scared of making the wrong choice.

And what of my future with my son?

When The Knucklehead was three, and his mom and I first separated, I began a ritual that lasted Knuck’s whole life. Whenever I would turn my boy back over to his mom after spending time with me, I would always ask him, “When do we see each other again?” It was vital to me that my toddler had a concrete date he could hold onto. I wanted to be sure he knew it. I wanted to be sure he could take that promise to the bank. I never left him without him being able to tell me when we’d next see each other. “Two days.” “This Friday.” “After I get back from vacation with Mom.” Over time, as our schedule became part of our bones, the question was asked out of habit, not necessity. But it was still asked.

I last asked my son that question on April 18th, our last dinner together before I drove across country. Knuck’s answer was, “You’re flying me out over winter break, for New Year’s.” His answer after this visit will be, “You’re flying out for my graduation in May.”

I don’t know the answer to that question after his college graduation this spring, not yet, anyway. We are in uncharted waters.

* * *

But the one thing I’ve learned about parenthood is that it is made up of ocean upon ocean of uncharted waters. You go through enough transitions and they start to scare you less and less. You learn to trust the relationship you’ve built with your knucklehead, the history assembled through your kid’s lifetime of firsts. Knucks and I have been through a lifetime of transitions together. I see this as simply the next one.

I’d love it if my son moved to Washington. I let him know often that there’s a room for him in this house for as long as he needs it if he wants to get on his feet in the Pacific Northwest. The thought of being housemates with a young man I not only love, but like immensely, makes me smile. He’s good company, my kid. I like hanging out with him.

But I don’t need him here for our relationship to continue, and continue to grow. I have a rich life in Olympia, and that’s what I want for my son: a rich life of his own. I can’t dictate where that will be, that’s for him alone to uncover. We are cemented into each other’s hearts, and distance can do nothing to change that. Besides, always being a text, Skype, and a post away closes the distance.

So my plan for our week together is to bask in the company of My Knucklehead, and thoroughly enjoy having him around. I’m not going to worry about the future, because the future is simply the next transition in his life, and we’re undefeated so far in weathering transitions. It’s true, I’ve half-joked with him that my plan is to wine and dine him, that if he decides not to settle in Olympia at the end of our visit, it won’t be for my lack of trying. But he also knows I’m cheering him onto the next chapter in his life, even if he’s unsure of it himself.

So we’re going to celebrate. He’ll get to reunite with the dog (who is going to go mental when he sees the boy). We’ll probably spend a day or two in Seattle, maybe take the ferry to Bremerton. We might hit Mt. Rainier – neither of us has seen it up close in winter – and if we do, stop by the Copper Creek Inn for some blackberry pie. Maybe we’ll hit Portland, Oregon, just a couple hours south. But mostly, I want to introduce him to my new hometown, his Left Coast home. We’ll stop by the Farmer’s Market in Olympia. Grab waffles at King Solomon’s Reef (and maybe pop into The Reef’s Lounge, one of the great dive bars in a city of epic dive bars). Visit McMenamin’s Spar Café (from whence I write his weekly letter) for Cajun Tater Tots and billiards. Pull into Vic’s Pizzeria for a gourmet slice (with the Grateful Dead and Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants posters on the walls). See what’s funky at The Compass Rose, or Browser’s Books, or Rainy Day Records. Gobble chowder at Fish Tales. Have a beer at Northwest Beerwerks, or P’s and Q’s, or better yet, a pint or two while we catch a Premier League soccer match at Three Magnets. A place that makes me happy will make him happy. I want my son to experience the friendliness and openness of my new hometown. I want him to leave at the end of his break knowing his dad is in good hands.

* * *

I can’t wait to see my son. I can’t wait to have him home for the holiday. And though the vacation will go all too quickly, when I put him back on a plane east it won’t be with sadness or regret. It’ll be with gratitude that My Knucklehead finally got to see and experience for himself what all the fuss of his dad’s new life is about. And I’ll be filled with excitement for what my son’s future will bring.

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