Thursday, January 10, 2013

Empty Nest

I have heard the admonition many times over the years from family, friends and well-meaning clients:

“Sure, it was fine for you to leave medical school to run off and become an artist, but it will be different when your kid tries to do something like that. You just wait and see...”

Well, I believe I have an answer for them.

We just said good-bye to our nineteen-year old son, the baby, recently home for the holidays, now back on his own in New York City, building a career for himself in the modeling industry.

This is our math genius, the one who does calculus in his head, the one whose participation on the high school Physics team helped them sweep the state in his senior year. The one who said, ‘No thanks’ to college, in favor of a business plan that was high-risk, reward-rich, and time-sensitive. Eighteen months into his adventure of personal discovery, he has secured food, shelter, and gainful employment, is enjoying an advancing business career, and is looking forward to taking college courses for the spring term.

And he has signed with a major modeling agency, too.

His brother is ahead of him chronologically and academically, a junior in a fairly prestigious local college where he is excelling in business and leadership pursuits. He threatens to be a successful entrepreneur when school is finally done with him, and he with it. For now he is content with the academic path.

Suffice it to say that I am immensely proud of both of my boys, and happy beyond words that they have flown the coop, and are now out on their own.

As one of the perqs of my medical history, I had the distinct privilege of delivering both of these humans, though to be truthful I was just there to make the catch. (Their mother had far more to do with every aspect of the delivery than I, or the attendant medical staff, for that matter.) Once each of our boys was clearly pulling in oxygen on his own, the nurses whisked them away for clean-up and swaddling, then placed them in a deep-dish Plexiglas tray beneath the glowing lamps of a french fry warmer for presentation to the world.

Their world, for the next few moments at least, was me.

“Hello, there,” I said to them, the first in 1991, the other one two years later. What followed was a recitation that had been forming in my mind for some time, as I watched my friends marry and become parents, as I thought about the way I had been raised, and wondered what I would do differently if ever I became a dad.

“Welcome to the land of the air breathers,” I told them. “I’m your father. It’s my job to get you the hell out of my house. And the sooner the better.”

Better to be honest, I thought, right from the get-go.

“The sooner I can give you the tools you need to make it on your own in the world, young man, the better it will be for everyone. I plan to do everything I can to provide you with enough groceries, warm clothes, bubble baths, swing sets and hugs to get you through your teen-age years at least. I will try to download all the education, information, rules and regulations that will allow you to get along well with others, and I will be the painted lines, guide posts, bumpers and guard rails it will take to keep you on the road of your life, and out of the ditches.

“There is no doubt that I will screw this up. But I will do the best that I can, and that’s all you can expect of anyone, and the only thing of value that you can offer in return. We’ll learn together, and if we're careful things might just turn out all right.

“You are welcome here. You are loved. There’s a great big world out there waiting for you, and I am honored to be one of the people who gets to show it to you.

“I’m very glad to meet you – and I suspect that this is going to be a whole lot of fun. If you need anything, just holler.

“Oh, and one more thing: I want you to know ahead of time that I will probably start to get real stupid around the time you turn fifteen. I apologize in advance. If you bear with me, I promise I’ll start to get smarter by the time you’re twenty. Now let’s go see your mom.”

Or something to that effect. Of course it was silly to speak to newborn babies as if they were adults, but I didn't want my kids to go through life without ever having heard a supportive word from their dad. My mother was taken from me at an early age for both of us, and there was no guarantee that I wouldn't fall off the planet before my sons and I had any real chance to get to know one another. And who knows – maybe somewhere in their soft little heads the feeling, if not the specific meaning of my words was already sinking in. Better said than not.

This introduction also set the tone for the rest of my interactions with my boys. I treated them like adults from day one, expecting just a little more than they were able to achieve at the moment, until they were old enough to start expecting that from themselves. And we had some fun along the way.

So, what will I say if my kid wants to run off and do something creative, rather than fit the expected molds of career track and adult behavior? I’d say that if I did my job well, they will be breaking those molds for the rest of their lives.

At our house, the boys’ room is empty now. I couldn't be happier.

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