In less then an hour, I will no longer be a parent of a teenager. My youngest son is actually celebrating his 20th birthday right now in Germany, where he is currently stationed, although at just after 11 p.m. PDT, it is not quite here yet. His older brothers, of course, have already crossed this threshold. And although it is a milestone that carries some significance for both of us, it is not among the most significant. Crossing into adulthood at 18 was bigger and his 21st will be too, even though he will likely be celebrating it in Afghanistan where that milestone holds much less cultural impact. Still, he is no longer a teenager and I no longer have any teenage children. It is significant enough to cause me to pause… and reflect.
I was almost 27 when Matthew was born. I was already a parent twice over and it was a time in my life when the future looked pretty good. It was not to last. By the time he turned one, my marriage had dissolved and I found myself a single parent. It was a challenge like none other, but I kept moving forward not really knowing where I was going and, to some extent, what I was doing. All my eggs were in one basket; my vision (actually, not mine so much as my perception) of the American Dream was shattered, but I had to stay in the game. I had these kids to take care of and despite all the other chaos I invited into my life over the ensuing years, the idea that I had this sacred responsibility was never lost.
But I was a kid myself. Even in my late twenties, in many respects, I never actually felt like a grownup. True, I was playing the role, and succeeding sort of, but it always felt like I was playing house - except I was using live ammo. I didn’t know why, but for whatever reason I never felt like I had any direction; my only purpose, it seemed, was to see these kids into adulthood. And although that is enough in the larger scheme of things, I didn’t have a clue as to where I was going in the now, in real-time. I was never satisfied with where I was and every time I got “there,” it moved. In a sense, my life, as chaotic as it got sometimes, would have been far worse had it not been for my boys.
My own childhood was almost like a storybook. I had the stability of a nuclear family. Almost from my earliest memory, my home was the same home my parents still live in. That kind of stability was becoming increasingly uncommon in those days and it’s almost unheard of now. It was what I wanted for my family, but for myriad reasons it was not to be. Finally I have attained some semblance of it and for the past four-plus years, our home is our home – we are not going anywhere. Although my youngest attended three different high schools, his sophomore, junior and senior years were all at the same one – just down the street.
And not coincidentally I have felt like a grownup the entire time. It is not because I am more dedicated to fatherhood – that is not possible. It is not because fortune fell my way yet again and this time I was just lucky enough to hang on to it. It is not because of some B-vitamin complex, a new workout routine or a “significant other.” It is because I have learned to stay in the moment, and to a large extent, my kids taught me that. As much as I always tried to find our place and was always looking toward the end, they were content to just be with me in the moment. They walked with me through uncertainty always trusting me, but as much as I raised them, they raised me. And now I know that although my purpose was (and largely still is) to be their father, that is not the entirety of what my purpose entails.
I still don’t know, exactly, why I’m here. But there is a reason – a purpose – and I don’t need to know specifically what it is, just that it is. It doesn’t make me a more dedicated father, but it does make me a better father. It drives me; it keeps me focused on today. Doors have opened and I walked through them. And along the way, others have closed behind me. Now 25 minutes past midnight PDT, 4 October 2009, I officially no longer have any teenage children. I can look back on all the good and not so good and know that as chaotic as some of those years were, we made it through and that sense of purpose that was once a nebulous sacred responsibility has now blossomed into far more. I do not feel “old,” but I do feel like a grownup.
My kids raised me good.