He drew a smiley face underneath the day circled in red on the family calendar. I wasn’t nearly as giddy, and all I could really manage was a weak smile and an acknowledgement of the inevitable.
While he was counting down the days until he left home, I still felt a sad certainty of resignation. For 18 solid years, we had prepared for this moment. When a bird nudges the chick out of the nest, it’s for their own good, we’re told. But there’s still some trepidation in every parent. “Was he really ready?” The boy-man was now well on his way to becoming a man-boy.
I put off going into his room for a few days. When I finally walked in, it seemed like it was void of oxygen. Then I looked around and laughed. There was a cereal bowl in the corner of the room. A single sock hung over the chair like a flag of surrender. A tattered Michael Jordan poster hung on the wall. And there was my missing Phillips Screwdriver.
He had boxed his valued treasures that would follow him after his military training was complete in a year. The rest of the stuff he didn’t care about and told us “just get rid of it.”
I couldn’t resist looking through the box of possessions he left behind. I pulled out his stuffed bear, Fred. We got him to make the tonsillectomy seem a little less daunting. He had marched into the hospital, chin high, face resolute. “No big deal.” But he clung to that bear afterwards.
And then there were loads of books, such as the dozens of volumes of the Star Wars series. Those galactic tales had fueled his young mind and actually helped propel his ambitions. Now, he was off to serve his nation to control the rotating orbs just beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Fiction is now reality.
I remember him sticking his arms out like wings while aloft on my shoulders, making sputtering sounds like a 1920 pilot. He was five then. That seemed forever ago. Who knew he would be a new recruit of the Air National Guard?
He left behind his Children’s Picture Bible, and I remembered those days when he would climb on my lap, turning the pages faster than I could mouth them. I read; he listened and would eventually fall asleep. When he got old enough, he read, and I was the one who fell asleep.
I never made much money, and I never really cared if my boys do either. I just want them to live lives of integrity and truth and for them to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and down the line right to the Ruperts—Adam, Gordon, and David. The sins of the fathers—and mine—are painfully obvious. But the grace of God is stronger yet. That’s legacy.
For a while I wanted my faith to be their faith. But it’s a much better place for them to wrestle with God, to have their own limp and scars as proof. So, I pray and love.
I wonder if this is how my parents felt. A lifetime of transitions. As a baby, I needed my parents for everything. Then I toddled off into foolish independence, learning the meaning of “no” and “don’t put that in your mouth.” Each year I grew a little more autonomous, awkwardly finding myself on my own.
And there were those foolish years when nothing my parents said was right, or sensible, or intelligent. Funny how years later I took a turn at being the dumb parent. It’s amazing how the tables turned and how they are turning.
He’s been gone from home a decade now. When he called yesterday, his number lit up my phone and my day was instantly better. We talk about work and his new camper-trailer and his dog. I give some advice about life that sounds vaguely familiar. All the things my parents told me, I now parrot as if it’s some kind of new wisdom.