by J.D. Rhoades
Warning: the following post has little or nothing to do with books or mystery writing. It happens.
This past Saturday, I sat on a metal bench in the blazing sun on a bright blue North Carolina morning. It was only 8 AM, but the wife and I and about a thousand other people were sitting shoulder to shoulder, fanning ourselves with flimsy programs that were far too small, and far too damp from sweat and humidity, to keep anyone cool. But there was no way we were going to miss this. Our son was graduating from High School.
Over the past few days, I’ve been absorbed by memories. In my mind’s eye, they’re like mirror fragments cascading to the floor, magically arranging themselves into a mosaic of the last eighteen years: My first sight of him, at his delivery (“My God,” I thought, “he looks like Winston Churchill!”) The sweetness he exhibited towards his little sister when she was born, and the epic battles later (“Mom, I think Nina needs to go to the Emergency Room.”) Bringing home the new puppy (R.I.P. Clifford, we still miss you). The time when we were watching TV and some politician’s ad came on, and his little voice piped up from the big easy chair across the room: “Who is THIS idiot?” Cub Scout camping trips. Beach weeks. Christmas mornings that used to begin at the crack of dawn (or before) and now begin when we roust him and his sister out of bed. Apples to Apples. Trivial Pursuit. Clue (Junior Edition). Life. Legos, Beanie Babies, Nerf, GameBoy, and multi-sided dice. Mechwarrior, Barney, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! Spongebob, the Simpsons, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Family Guy, Futurama, the Wire, Samurai Champloo, Samurai Jack, Ninja Warrior, Cops, AFV, Firefly and Buffy. Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, the Dark Elf Trilogy, and The Song of Ice and Fire. Disney, Godzilla, Toy Story, Shrek, Star Wars, Pirates, Tarantino and Kurosawa flicks. Engrish, webcomics, DeviantArt, and Japanese TV on YouTube. Baseball, then soccer (including a brief flirtation with being an Arsenal fan), then PS2, Wii, PC games, D & D and a bunch of role playing games I never heard of. The same group of friends (who I affectionately refer to as “your dumb little buddies”) who he’s hung out with since Kindergarten and who now are scattering in all directions.
It seemed to take forever for him to grow up, but now I look back and think “how did it all happen so fast?” Seemingly overnight, the baby who couldn’t sit up on his own is a brilliant, big-hearted, funny, sarcastic, kind, goofy, passionate, cynical, opinionated, fiercely talented young man who’s a little like me, a lot like his mom, and a lot like…well, like someone entirely himself. He’s an artist whose work periodically makes me sit up and go “whoa,” and a writer who may, and I say this in all sincerity, kick my ass someday.
In a couple of months, he’ll be moving out, gone off to a college of his own choosing. It was a choice which surprised me at first , but which makes perfect sense for him. And that’s a thing that makes me both incredibly proud and a little sad: he’s making his own decisions, and they’re good ones. Maybe not always what I would have done, but reasonable for him.
In the months and years ahead, he’ll make plenty more decisions: some good, some bad, some probably even incredibly boneheaded. But they’ll be his, not mine, and he’ll own the consequences, both good and bad. All we can do is hope we’ve given him the tools to make the right choices.
I think about 16 year old Abby Sunderland, who was attempting to be the youngest person to sail around the world, and think, as many did after she was rescued from her damaged sailboat, “WTF were her parents thinking?” After all, I thought, I still get the willies when The Boy takes the car to a friend’s house. Then I realized: I can’t do what I’ve done for years. At various times in the last eighteen years, I’ve been, with tongue in cheek, referring to my son as The Boy. But he’s not The Boy. He can now take it into his head to do something crazy–sail around the world, hike off to Tibet, marry a Duke fan–and there’s not going to be much I can do except offer what advice I can and try not to say “I told you so” if things go sideways. At least try not to say it too much.
A page is turning. Big changes are coming in all our lives. The Girl is ecstatic at finally getting a bathroom to herself, but I know she’ll miss her hanging-out buddy, her foil, her debate opponent, her (occasionally unasked for) advisor. I’ll probably be moving my writing stuff into his room, but I know the house is going to seem bizarrely quiet without that booming voice that you can hear clear across the house as he mocks something particularly stupid on TV.
I know I’ve made mistakes as a parent, and I know there are probably a thousand ways in which I’ve failed him, but I think despite it all, he’s turned into someone of whom we’re intensely proud.
Here’s to you, Nick. No matter how fast or how far away you sail, I hope sometimes you turn your face towards home and think of the people who love you. And remember you always have a safe harbor here.