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  Twelve years ago today I became a father and while our lives are often marked by turning points and moments where “everything changed”, very few if any are quite as profound as the moment you suddenly become a parent. It was, as I have written before, not a role I was in any way really prepared for but it has been the most rewarding one of my entire life.

I like to commemorate these milestone birthdays with a few words written that tell how I feel about these once-in-a-lifetime events, both for him to have someday and to also remind myself how good I’ve had it up to now. Every parent likes to think their child is perfect but I suffer no such illusions, for I have an imperfect child. What I have no illusions about though is the fact that somehow I ended up with a good child and I would rather have a good child than a perfect one any day of the week.

The best kind of good is the kind you see when no one is looking and despite how much my son takes after me in some regards, it is his warm heart and good spirit that I admire because it seems to come naturally to him. The first twelve years of his life has done nothing so far to diminish that and I hope the next 8 or so years don’t change any of that, though I know they are likely going to be rough ones in many ways.

Some may not think that turning 12 is as big a deal as turning 13 will be, and thus becoming a teenager, but I think 12 is important because it is really the last year of childhood and oftentimes it’s a year of some of the rapid transformations that begin to happen to a child as they start the transition from childhood to adulthood. Some of the signs are already beginning to show up….the moodiness is more pronounced, the sudden growth spurts and occasionally the backtalk when he’s told to do something he doesn’t want to do right at that moment. Those are the moments that I have to try my hardest not to suddenly turn into my father and go postal parent on him. I also have to realize these are just tastes of what is likely to come as he grows, matures and his hormones go crazy. It happens to each of us and it happened to me too.

That is where I hope we can still find common ground in the formative years coming that will bridge whatever differences of opinion we will have and I’m pretty sure that common ground will be humor. Despite all the differences I may have had with my father during my teenage years and sometimes in the years afterwards, laughter and humor, cloned and duplicated from him was something we always shared and it is a lot of what I remember most about him now that he is no longer with us.

My sense of humor, like my father’s humor, is different. He and I, along with my brother, could see humor in things that most people didn’t and we shared a lot of laughs over things that we found funny, even in situations where things might not be funny at all. Laughter is an escape valve and one that we used a lot. My son, no doubt from being in my sphere of influence, has my sense of humor and it is backed up with a biting wit that has made me laugh (and occasionally cringe) more than anyone else in my life. It is refreshing that I can make a comment or a statement with an underlying joke in it and he just gets it.

These moments seem to be at their best (or their worst depending on your point of view) at places like the grocery store. Neither of us enjoy the grocery store and I think that comes out in the form of finding things to laugh at in the store. I sometimes forget that he’s a child because we seem to be on the same wavelength most of the time, though I wonder if that says I function at a child’s level or he does at an adult level. I know my wife gets frustrated with us both at times, especially when we erupt in laughter about something that she missed and then feels left out of the joke. Clowning around at the grocery store (he broke out dancing at the store just the other night as they were playing some really funky 70’s tunes loudly over the PA system) is something we both have fun doing. 

I suppose I shouldn’t get proud of him when he makes a cynical or biting comment about something and my mother immediately blames me for it, even though I didn’t say it. She thinks I’m ruining him but I think he finds it honest that I say exactly what it is I think about a particular situation without a filter. Most of us can do that around those we love and trust but I never envisioned that in the process of gaining a son those dozen years ago that I would also gain someone I can be totally myself around.

I am not one of those parents who thinks they have to be buddies with their child to get along with them. It just comes natural to us and he knows where the line is and gives me the respect of having the say-so in things that a parent needs to have, even when the occasional unpleasant topic comes along that has to be dealt with. The difference where my father was concerned is that the line sometimes moved around and I had to be a bit more cautious. With my son, I’ve always tried to make sure the line is defined and we both know where it is.

What I admire about him though is that he commits to things and follows through on most of them. He gives his all to things like baseball, basketball and more recently, golf. I’ve begun taking him on the occasional Saturday to play 9 holes while he learns the game and although I can’t instruct him on it, nor do I play myself, I have thoroughly enjoyed those hours spent on the golf course with him.

I’ve never been a baseball or basketball fan but I really like spending that time together… I just have had a hard time convincing him that he can’t walk out on a golf course and be Tiger Woods. He likes to be great at the things he does and while he has done a great job doing that with baseball and basketball, he is having to learn that golf is very unforgiving. I just hope we continue to enjoy that time together. Some of my best times with my own father were spent with him around the golf course and watching him interact with the others there.

Our annual mountain driving trip is something we both look forward to doing each October as a father/son thing and this will be our fifth fall drive in 2016. Cars are something we both share a passion for and several days of fast, twisty road driving plus hanging out with 50 other like minded folks has become our traditional event…that and going to the Atlanta Auto Show, followed by dinner at the Varsity. These are where memories are made, to be savored and enjoyed.

I admire the way he enjoys helping someone too. Recently, his class and others at his school spent a day doing community projects to help others and by the end of the day, I saw a number of pictures of him helping to clean out gutters, cut shrubbery and other tasks. Neither his mother nor I realized he enjoyed doing yard work as he has never seemed thrilled about doing things around the house…yet he doesn’t seem to mind when its for a good cause. That’s not a flaw I will argue with.

Parenting is as much about teaching as it is about learning. While I hope I have taught him a lot over the first dozen years, I think it’s safe to say he has taught me a lot more about myself. I’m glad we’ve had this opportunity and time to do that because it all went by way too fast. That’s the one thing all parents need to learn and never forget, especially new ones just starting out, is that it all goes by way too fast and you can’t slow it down…but you can sure enjoy the journey. Take the time to. 

Happy Birthday Son….Love Dad