You were born a few weeks after I moved out of my parents house. My sister named you after me. I never really figured out why . . . . I’m sure you wonder sometimes as well. I mean, look at us. We’re different, you and I. Me? I’m a romantic dreamer with delusions and grandeur, childlike whimsy, and a sense of wonder that defies my 38 (nearly 39) years. You are a stoic, mechanically inclined, solid thinker with determined eyes and far more strength of character at 17 than I had in those bygone days of my youth . . . . But I don’t want to write about me. I don’t want to write about your mother and her strange decision to make her only son my namesake. Unfortunately for you, she did, which keeps us irrevocably connected. It also doesn’t help you that I’m a writer.
So today, the day after you graduated high school, I want to write about you.
You didn’t have it easy when you were a baby. I’m going to gloss over some of the more specific parts, but let’s be honest, back then your birth father was an immature deadbeat. And your mother, God bless her, was confused and scared. That tired, old saying comes to mind, “They were too young to have kids.” But were they? He was, to be sure. He possessed a complete lack of understanding on how to father, something I would have thought somewhat intrinsic until I became a teacher . . . . Whatever he is to you now, whatever level of forgiveness you’ve granted him, we must never forget his betrayal when you weren’t old enough to take care of yourself. Really, bad parenting is nothing more than the ultimate betrayal, isn’t it? To survive, you, your mom, and your older sister bounced around a bit, going from apartment to your grandparents’ house, back to an apartment, and forth to your grandparents’ house again . . . and again . . . and again. It’s a story as old as time that oftentimes leads to less than desirable results for the children involved. I know. I’ve been teaching for awhile now. I’ve seen what such living conditions, even when they don’t last long, even when there is at least one loving parent, can do to a child . . . . I’ve seen it a lot.
But those less than desirable results never occurred in you. The madness of those early years faded, if not from your memory, than from having any lasting detrimental effect. Your mother found some stability that resulted in three more sisters for you. In a way, your mother and the man she married, your adoptive father, have already broken what was sure to be a cycle of bad fathering and weak children. In other words, the bad things, the really bad things, haven’t occurred for you or to you and I don’t think they will. The list of reasons for this is long. I mention your mother and adoptive father. But they have had help. There have been more people involved in molding you than I think you know. The same can be said for anyone.
Truth be told though, more than your birth father, more than your adoptive father, more than me, or any teacher, uncle, or friend you have, it’s your grandfather, my father, who has had the biggest impact on your life. I see it in your mannerisms and behavior. I see it in the way you walk and talk. I see it in the literal and figurative shadow you cast. He has shown you how to be a man. He has shown you how to find your silent strength and use it to help people, to love. At times, seeing you makes me wish I would have paid more attention to him growing up. But that’s the regret of any child of a good parent, isn’t it? There are many who have touched your life, but he’s the one I see in you the most. He’s the one I’m happiest to see there. He’s the one I’m jealous to see there. He’s the one who will be there long after all the others have fallen to the wayside and you are the man you will become.
For your graduation present I offer you this small phrase, something to remember when times get tough, when decisions you never thought you’d have to make come screaming at you like a freight train on cocaine (because they will):
- If someone tells you to be a man, don’t. That’s cliche, dated, stupid, and ignorant. Be your grandpa. Like you, like me, like all of us, he’s eternal.
Oh wait. I forgot this one. And it’s the most important:
- Never change your name. It’s got a nice ring to it.
I love you.