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Friday, July 6, 2001

THE PARENT TRIP

Remember always -- graduation day


Dear Son,

You'll probably never see this. Newspapers aren't your cup of tea, and though I'm sure you'd oblige me by reading something I specifically pointed out to you (a tradition dating back to your early teens, when I worried about your English and supervised your reading accordingly), I doubt I'll bring this particular piece to your attention.

Never mind. It's for you anyway.

It took shape in my mind as I watched you on stage one Friday morning last month, capped and gowned, a high school graduate, of course, but equally, though the official program said nothing about this, a graduate of the little threesome we think of simply as "us" -- the family. In another month, during which interlude we won't see all that much of you because you'll be busy running around town winding up the sundry affairs of your now-expired childhood, you're off. See you over the winter vacation. Will we recognize you? You, naturally, are looking to the future. Your mother and I, no less naturally, are headed in the opposite direction, steeped in nostalgia.

It's that kind of time. Our first memory of you antedates your birth -- antedates even our certainty of your conception. Shall I confess to you that we rather hoped you hadn't been? Conceived, I mean. We were young. Parenthood is a scary thought. You'll see.

There's another distant memory, more vivid to me than anything in front of my eyes as I write this. It's of you, age 9 or 10 months, crawling up a concrete stairway in a park, and me, hovering nearby, thinking how fragile a 9- or 10-month-old skull is.

Your skull thickened, and you grew -- how you grew! The latest family photos show you towering over me, a living symbol of the younger generation surpassing the older. It is the nature of children to outgrow their parents. Do I enjoy being outgrown? Yes and no. Mostly, to be perfectly honest, no.

There have been moments in the past few months when your impatience to have done with childhood has offended me. You'll think that foolish, a symptom of (how did I put it to my parents 30 years ago?) "living in the past." Someday you, too, will have a past to live in. We'll see what you think then. But you're right, of course. Ultimately, living in the past is self-defeating. You're not the only one who has some growing up to do. I do, too. Having shared the innocence of your childhood, I must now outgrow that along with you. You will never again be to me what you have been until now. You'll be something else instead. What? I don't know yet.

Am I ready to relate to you man to man? No more than I was ready to have you. But these are the things in life that come up from behind, tap you on the shoulder and say: "I'm here, buddy -- ready or not."



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