Father Of A Teenage Son

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It has been 3 years since I wrote a post about my son, on the day of his 10th birthday, yet it seems like just a few weeks ago. Time is going by faster and faster and I can’t seem to figure out a way to slow it down. Suddenly, I’m the father of a teenager and all which that entails, both now and in the critical years ahead.

It has been 38 years since I first became a teenager, and I know the bridge that is about to be crossed in the relationship I have with my son, a transitional time where the infalible hero who can do no wrong and who can overcome any obstacle, suddenly turns into the aging, clueless anachronism that has to stop and think about where he put his car keys. That is kind of the way I had begun to see my own father at that age and hey, he was only 33! In all honesty though, my father and I never had the same relationship that my son and I do now, and I hope the things that we both have that are so much in common with each other will help us get through the years ahead a little easier.

He will be driving in two years, at least provisionally, and on his own in three. That sentence scares the hell out of me honestly. At thirteen years old, I was already surreptitiously navigating the parental ocean liner that was my mother’s Buick Electra down the narrow streets of Jenkinsburg, while the family, oblivious to my stealth, recovered inside from my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. His experience behind the wheel is limited to backing his mother’s compact car out of the garage with my hand firmly on the emergency brake, trying to avoid the appearance of panic. At least it wasn’t a manual.

My father’s one attempt to show me how to drive a 4-speed manual nearly ended in our untimely deaths at the intersection of Highway 36 and Four Points Road. Fortunately, my grandfather was more patient in showing me how to row the gears on his column shifting Chevy pickup truck. Back then, when I got my license, I drove way too fast in cars without airbags, side impact beams, antilock brakes or stability control. He’s afraid he’s going to miss out on it because autonomously driving cars are rapidly developing.

He’s just beginning to show interest in girls. I’m still trying to figure his mother out. He’s going to need guidance and advice. I really miss my Dad. All of these things have been running through my head this week, leading up to the big day. But then I have stop and think about the bridges we’ve already crossed and the things we share that make our relationship what it is right now and what I hope it will continue to be.

He loves baseball, basketball and football, and he knows every aspect of all three sports. I have to remind myself that umpires don’t call touchdowns in a basketball game…yet, I thoroughly enjoy getting to watch him learn to play golf and develop his skill with the club, despite my limited ability to teach him much more than not to use his driver in the sand trap. I really enjoy those mornings on the golf course with him, because we spend that time together and we find a lot of things to laugh about.

When we go to the car show in Atlanta each year, it’s a different story. He absorbs my knowledge about automobiles and has started reading Car and Driver to find out more. Other parents teach their kids to associate alphabetical letters with things that begin with that letter when they are little. His father taught him to identify every car we passed on the interstate by the badge on the trunk and he could name them by the time was three year olds. He loves the exotics and knows far more about Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti than I do. I love the German cars for their road handling, quality and craftsmanship.

Each year, we go on the annual fall color drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains with a group of roadster enthusiasts. It has become our thing, something we do each year and that we both look forward to. He is the youngest one there (literally the only non-driver) and proudly got his 5 year attendance pin last year…and he makes a great navigator, watching the GPS, the road and the cars in front of us as we drive the twisty mountain roads…and we’ll just talk about whatever comes up. We make bad jokes about things and we get each other’s humor. These are the things that I treasure now and that I hope he will treasure in the future.

The one thing I haven’t done that I would still like to do is take him on a trip out west. My grandparents took me on a great western road trip when I was 12, along with my mother and my aunt, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’m thinking I’d like to do it when he is 15 so he can help with the driving. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado and a few other places along the way would be fun, and I think he would remember it better if he were a bit older. Whatever we do would have to be more fun than five of us in my grandfather’s car, stopping at every fruit stand along the way.

So today he becomes a teenager, and it’s somewhat bittersweet because every year, every month, every day takes him further away from that little boy that came into our lives and took over our hearts and moves him closer to that day when adulthood will claim him. He has taught me so much about myself, helped me to learn how to love a child and shown me that I can be a better Dad than I thought I could. Most importantly though, he has taught me that time goes by very fast and these moments are fleeting. That is the one thing I can’t stress enough or find a way to impart to my young cousins, Hilary, John, Max and Rebecca, each of whom have young children of their own now.

Time will pass in the blink of an eye and they will suddenly be growing up before you’re ready for them to. In a flash, they will be teenagers and I imagine before I can even get used to that, drivers, then college students, then husbands or wives and then parents of their own. For someone who has always been obsessive about time, I really want my watch to run slower and everything in life to slow down with it.

I said this three years ago and the words still ring true today. I realize when I see him that he is the physical embodiment of life continuing on, and that the only immortality any of us have on earth is through the children we leave to carry on for us in the years beyond our lives. He is the message I send to a future I will never see, just as I was for those who are no longer here in person, but who are carried on through the life they shared with me.

For now though, I intend to celebrate the milestone of a young man’s 13th birthday, one who has made me very, very proud and one who still teaches me, as I hope to continue to teach him.

Happy Birthday Son!