Life Lessons From a Dad on His Kid's Last Day of High School

“And so, to all you graduates, as you go out into the world, my advice to you is…

Don’t go! It’s rough out there. Move back with your parents! Let them worry about it!”

–Thornton Melon

It’s rarely the best strategy to start a blog with a disclaimer. But this time, you’ll have to forgive me the Facebook postishness of this one. Every so often as we pass through this vale of tears, something profound happens and I have to react. I write a lot here and have for a lot of years and, while I sincerely try not to abuse all the latitude I’m given to say whatever I want, once in a while I have to write something that’s just … well, just for me I guess.

This morning I watched my younger son drive himself to his last day of high school. And watching the taillights of a son’s 2003 Ford Explorer (just two years younger than the Class of 2019) pull out of the same driveway where we used to wait together for the bus to take him to kindergarten, him sporting a Power Rangers backpack and talking about going as Boba Fett for Halloween, the sun coming through the autumn leaves and me wishing the Earth would stop its rotation so we could linger there a while longer, a father feels his soul ache. There’s not a feeling you don’t feel at a moment like that. Pride. Sadness. Longing. Definitely joy. With the all the knobs turned up to the point your heart is redlining, but not enough to make it break down.

Anyway, if I’ve learned anything from an adult life putting now two kids through the public school system – a big supposition, I know – it’s this:

1. Time is relative.
I’ve seen enough Science Channel shows to understand that no matter how much they dumb Einstein down, I’ll never understand his theories. But on the relativity of time, I know it’s true. Probably not the way the old Swiss Patent Clerk meant it, but I’ve lived it. We don’t age a day at a time. Nor is life like a Rom Com where time is measured in birthdays where things go wrong in a wacky way and Christmases filled with loving and coping. Time passes in milestones that you hit. These moments that happen where you realize you’re older than you were when you went to bed last night. Getting your license and your diploma are two obvious biggies. The first time there’s a Major Leaguer the same age as you. Or when a guy you saw as a rookie gets into the Hall of Fame. When your parents retire. There’s that moment when you turn to a Classic Rock station and they’re playing a song you loved when it first came out. There’s the first time you get pregnant. The second time you get pregnant. When the Irish Rose and I told our then 4-year-old he was going to be a big brother he said “Wow. I feel different somehow.” We knew the feeling.

2. You’ve Got to Appreciate the Present
Few things you’ll ever experience will make you feel that jump time jump like a graduation. And when that time comes, you’ll measure your life by how old your kids were at different points along the way. Though ultimately, you’ll only really remember the good times. There’s a country song all our mom friends love called “You’re Gonna Miss This,” about this girl who’s anxious to grow up and everyone’s giving her that advice. Until the end when she’s got kids of her own and they’re driving her nuts and the plumber says he’s got two babies of his own, “one’s 36 and one’s 23.” Which makes them all sob uncontrollably (in addition to asking why the plumber’s kids are 13 years apart, but that’s neither here nor there) to the point they’ve had to pull off the road to keep from crashing. Because it’s so true. The other day both sons and I watched a “Fairly Oddparents” and a couple of “Spongebobs” for old times sake and I was a kid clutching a blanket with his head on my shoulder away from it being 2005 all over again. But as I sit here 2019 and those boys are now voting age adults who are bigger than me, I take solace in knowing I was as grateful for those times as I was humanly capable.

3. Manage Your Expectations
It’s human nature for a father to hold his son in the delivery room and picture him changing the world. Becoming the next Lincoln. The next Steve Jobs. The next Tom Brady. Then as they get older, if you’ve got any sort of brains, reality should set in. I’m blessed with one trait, and that is self-awareness. So I realized after a while that only half of their DNA comes from their mom. And the other half comes from a mediocre athlete who finished 55th in his graduating class, and an immature manchild who spends his adult life writing about a football team and going into a nerdrage every time “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is on cable. That Come to Jesus moment really helped when those lousy report cards started coming home and every time they looked at a called third strike. Or when they were just being general nuisances. It taught me to cut them some slack with the understanding they’ll figure it out eventually.

4. Your Kids Are Born Into This World to Drive You Partially Insane
I could do a hundred blogs on this one topic. Instead I’ll just say I’ve always believed that if you show me a parent who thinks their kid can do no wrong, who isn’t occasionally driven nuts by their kid, it’s because they’re already nuts. On a deep, subconscious level, adult humans and their offspring are incompatible for anything more than short periods of time. Even when they’re behaving. Jim Gaffigan puts it best when he says “There should be a kids song that goes “If You’re Happy and You Know it Then Keep Quiet and Let Daddy Sleep.”

5. Millennials Get a Bad Rap
I’ve said this in other ways before. And when I do, I think AARP will stop sending me offers for discount cards (which would be fine, by the way). I know I’m expected to go through this stage of my life bitching about how soft the Class of 2019 is and how when I grew up times were tough and we were all heroes who saved the world on a daily basis, but I’m not going to sit on a throne of lies. Again, it’s the gift/curse of my own self-awareness that prevents me. For the most part, my class were incorrigible wiseass Massholes. In fact, I have a name for the most incorrigible and wiseassery of among my class: I call them my best friends. I think our one contribution to society was that we were a boon to Weymouth’s vodka sales industry. At least to the liquor stores along the route of all the teachers’ rides home. My son’s class is made up of some of the sincerely nicest teenagers I’ve ever met, even when I was one. They do community service as a requirement of graduating. If the weak kids are getting bullied, I’m not aware of it. The gay and trans kids appear to get the kind of acceptance unthinkable in Weymouth South High back in the day. The jocks join the band geeks (my son included) for rendition of “Hey Baby” from “Dirty Dancing” at the end of every football game, something they came up with organically. I was a self-absorbed carbon blob interested in not much more than finding a buyer so me and my friends could split a case of Buds and argue about the Red Sox.

6. Not All Graduating Classes Are the Same
This is sort of a corollary to No. 5. This class is great. But I think we’re lucky on this one. Five years ago when No. 1 son graduated, that group had been poisoned by a few megalomaniacs who had ruined the sports programs and driven a town into cliquey, animosity-filled civil war. The ceremony for us was like “Nope, can’t stand them. That family? Uh-uh, bad blood there. That dad can die in a fire for all I care. Hey look! The Douglases! They’re great! No, that mom sucks …” We took 10 pictures with the family and Nana and then noped out of there for our own cookout. But this class and this collection of parents will actually be missed.

7. Nature Does Every Parent a Solid
There’s a thing that I think must happen on a biological level because every parent experiences it. The first time you send your child off, to college or the military, it’s like having your heart torn out of your chest. The first time they return, you can’t wait to send them back. I think it’s just life doing you a favor and making it easier on you. Suddenly that empty bed their mom was crying on a couple of months ago is a sloppy, unmade mess. Those dinners together you missed are an 18-year-old horking down his food and going back to the den to play “Call of Duty” with the Surround Sound on max. There are half-empty Gatorade bottles everywhere that you know are not there in his Marine Corps barracks. They are Nature’s way of making you count down to the day Thanksgiving break being over. I bet when a young adult beaver goes back to the family dam, Mom & Dad Beaver are like “Hey Bucky. We were just talking about how there’s a great pile of sticks just up the river around that bend. You should seriously consider building your own dam with those.”

8. By Graduation, You’ve Done All the Parenting You Can Do
In the words of Norman Dale at the Indiana High School Basketball Finals, “We’re way past ‘Big Speech Time’ here, fellas.” It’ll be an emotional day. Mostly happy. And when he leaves in the fall, we have a standing tradition with some couples friends that whenever a child goes off to college or the military, we get together to get the mom good and drunk to distract her. But any thought of sending him off with some dramatic Polonius’ advice to Laertes type spiel about “This above all: to thine ownself be true,” would just be fruitless and awkward for us both. I told this kid in elementary school that I thought his moral compass points to True North and to follow it. I was worried that someone in school would target him and force him to give up the stuff he liked, like band and Scouting and nerd stuff. But it never happened and he stayed on his path. Which is taking him to a Catholic school in the Midwest to pursue the things that are important to him: An education, getting career skills (Whoo-hoo!), music and his relationship with someone who understandably doesn’t get a lot of mentions on a satirical sports comedy site, God. My work here is pretty much done. The rest is up to him.

Lastly, because this isn’t tl;dr enough already, today this quote is saying it all for me. And will continue to when we’re Empty Nesters at the end of summer.

“We are all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear.”
–“Doctor Who