The boy has become more of renter in the house than a son who needs constant attention. I look back now and wonder about the passing of eleven years. What did I miss? Why can’t I remember more? Why didn’t I take more pictures?
When Nick first came to us, he was four and a half years old. The first week of January 2007, after a year of parenting classes with the county, we went to pick him up from my parents in Reno, Nevada, where he was born. The state took him from his mother when he was almost three. He spent eighteen months with my parents, where he had his own room and had developed his own rhythms and routines.
We spent a week dealing with Nevada state bureaucrats and their psychologists. When we arrived home on January 7, we dealt with about another year of home visits, psychologists, and bureaucrats. We finally walked into the courtroom for the formal adoption in June 2008. Nick wore a suit and Virginia and I had dressed nicely. We stood in front of the judge, who asked Nick if he wanted us to be his parents. We knew he would say yes, but we still stood with a little nervousness about his response. Much like the person he’s become, he answered the judge’s questions with confidence. He was his own man and he had chosen us to be his parents.
Since then, it was baseballs, racecars, and bicycles. I was along for the whole ride. We went to his T-ball and baseball games together. He spent summer afternoons at the pool, where I lofted him into the air time and again to splash down in the pool, thrashing in foams of joy. He helped to fix the pickup when it needed brakes. He fetched wrenches and turned nuts I’d loosened for him.
When he was smaller, I walked him up the street every morning to school. At some ill-defined point, I walked him the 200 feet to the corner and watched him walk across the street and up the sidewalk to the school door by himself. Sometime after, I sent him out the from door and trusted him to make the journey on his own. I used to stand at the window, watching the other kids pass by the house until I knew he had to have made it into the school. Then, the time came when I sent him out the door and went back to bed.
He started at another school at sixth grade and needed to wait for a bus about a block away. Virginia and I got up early and made sure he had breakfast, he had a lunch, and he was dressed properly. We walked with him and waited with silent, brooding students unhappy about going to school. That lasted only a year. He started getting up on his own. He wanted the time alone and then insisted he make his own lunches and get himself off to the school bus on his own.
Since then, we sleep soundly when he gets up at 4:30 in the morning. We are still asleep when he walks out the door at 6:15. He’s only been late for the bus two or three times. When he crawled out of bed long after his appointed time, he panicked and sped around the house cursing himself. We climbed into the car and still, after all the fuss, got him to school on time.
We hiked and camped together since he was a little kid. We bought his first backpack used from a former Boy Scout. He carried it off into the woods when we went backpacking at Paddy Creek Wilderness. He loved being alone with me in those rocky ravines and among those ancient hardwoods. He picked up my slack when I went down with heat prostration. He swam with self-assurance in the cold spring pool that fed Little Paddy Creek.
All along, I’ve taken him to art galleries and to live music events. We have taken almost every opportunity to do things together. We sat together reading on quiet afternoons. I’ve watched him grow and become more and more of his own person.
This summer for the first time, we didn’t go to the neighborhood pool. We only rode bikes together twice. We didn’t go on the river this summer, though we did take a trip with his sister, Sydney, to Yellowstone. There, he performed like a champion. He set up and took down the tent on his own. He foraged for wood and split logs with a hand ax. He kept us in fire every night. He took to fly fishing, which I liked, since fly fishing has been so important in my life.
Now, he stands next to me and I can’t remember him not ever being this tall or ornery or self-assured. To me, he was always those things. When I look back on those few pictures I have of his growing up, at the yearly changes happening in those annual school pictures stuck to the refirgerator, I think to myself, yeah, he used to look like that, he used to be like that. But when I rummage around for actions associated with the person in the picture, I don’t remember enough.
Probably, I’m suffering from the passage of time. Having turned 55, I’m still comprehending my own life. The life I’ve influenced seems distant from me now.
Not many fathers have had the chances I have. My work allows me to participate in my son’s activities. I am there to pick him up when he’s ready to come home from his afterschool activities. He’s more or less self-contained, and I’m almost convinced that as long as we kept the house stocked with food, he would be fine without us. He’d get to school and to his Robotics Club obsession, and he’d have his friends take him home after.
He’s in the backroom now, watching YouTube on his telephone, a constant mania. I fear that the device will rob him of his faculties. But he gets As in school, participates with his friends in school activities, and maintains healthy friendships with friends who aren’t into drugs or alcohol. As far as I know, he’s never smoked a cigarette.
He’s so far ahead of me when I was his age. By the time I was fifteen, I was a regular smoker and drinker. I was constantly in the principal’s office and staying after school for detention. He’s had none of these problems. I’m not an idiot, however, and know he’s been exposed to more than he tells us. But he likes his life, I think, and knows better than to screw around with a good thing.
Still, I look back. Maybe I can’t see him as a younger person because I can’t see myself as a younger man. The great trick that time plays on me is that it tells me everything has always been like this. It’s only in dreams that I run, climb rocks, and stretch my body like I used to. Like seeing a picture of Nick as a young man, I penetrate the illusion and see that time has changed the both of us.
And, in many ways, we’ve had a good run. I can’t wait to see what’s next.