My son turns 15, today. Happy Birthday, Zachary! I can't believe how quickly the time has flown since he was born in 1992.
I turned 15 in the summer of 1960. Yep, I'm an old guy to have such a young son. So what? My visage may scare little children and my physique might be somewhat less than svelte, but at heart I'm just a kid myself. Maybe that's why my son and I connect as well as we do. We have our rocky moments, but overall we get along pretty well.
To be sure, I am a strict dad. The way I see it, my son is my responsibility to raise and to prepare for the complicated world that faces him. I don't want him running the streets terrorizing little old ladies or painting graffiti on public buildings. There is no moral relativism in my home. There is right, there is wrong, there is proper and there is improper. A is A. Still, I wish I could say that I was a perfect dad, but I wonder if such a creature exists. We, as parents, often fumble for the correct approach to use to help our kids turn out to be the best they can be. After some recent tension with my son over a ruling I had made that he didn't like much, I told him that I was just trying to be a good dad, and that that meant that I had to make reasoned decisions that looked beyond the current situation -- even if they seemed harsh and made me momentarily very unpopular. He looked at me for a moment and pronounced that I didn't need to try to be a good dad: I was one already.
That made me feel good. But it didn't make me change my mind about the decision I had made. I didn't turn soft and cave in to what he had wanted. Constancy and consistency are what kids need from their parents. I try to give my son that.
Zachary has now worked two evenings for a local ice cream store. It is hard work: cleaning tables, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, wiping counters, restocking supplies, all at a frantic pace because the stream of customers is constant. He has taken on his responsibilities with grace and is determined to be a good worker. That makes me proud.
I remember when Zachary was only a few days old, in August of 1992. I had him in my arms and was walking around our pool, talking to him as he tried to focus his gaze on the geezer who insisted on nattering away at him. I told him about the exciting life he was going to live, of the conquests we would make together, and how I would always be there for him. I have now 'been there' for him for fifteen years.
I promise, Zachary, that I will be around for many more years to come, and that I will always love you and will never stop trying to be the best dad I can be, even if on occasion it means making decisions you don't like.
Tonight, we will eat pizza and birthday cake. I will videotape our little family celebration, something I have done every year since Zachary was one year old. If it doesn't rain, he and his mom and I will go to a drive-in movie.
Tomorrow, the countdown will be on to his 16th birthday.