As I write this, my son has 16 more hours to be 16 years old. It’s late, but he’s asleep. No lights under the door, just the sound of the fan whirring next to his bed.
Last night, I snuck into his room to watch him sleep. I could see a little of his nose and closed eyes peeking out from the sheets. Next to his bed: car keys, Star Wars wallet, loose change, several books. At his feet: his Russian Blue, the right paw tucked over his eyes. And one other thing in the room – manhood – just a step away.
My oldest child is taller than I am, of course. For me, he opens jars, mows the yard, lifts heavy objects, moves furniture, reaches for glasses off the highest shelf in the kitchen. Watches “Seinfeld.” Laughs at my jokes. (Nick, “they’re ALL chickens.”) Asks if I’m OK. Bear-hugs.
He still reads every night. He still drinks chocolate milk (called it “chocolate moot” when he was a toddler) every morning.
This year, he learned to drive. He made As in all his classes, including Honors Physics. He took the ACT. He was a page at the state capitol. He had his first car accident.
But here’s a short list of what everyone should know about him:
• He prefers a phone call to a text.
• He reads old-fashioned (paperback or hardback) books.
• He repairs things without being asked.
• He considers Glenn Beck a rock star.
• He always thanks me for dinner.
• He couldn’t care less about "name-brand" shoes.
• He quotes Ronald Reagan.
• He washes his own clothes.
• He loves hot wings, bacon cheeseburgers and root beer.
• He reads the Bible and prays every day.
• He’s an Eagle Scout who lives the oath.
• He is respectful.
• He holds open doors for everyone.
• He’s a protective and devoted big brother.
• He considers his “Nana” one of his best friends.
During this year – when chaos overtook the structure in his life and he got lost in the muddled remains of his parents’ marriage – his concern was always for his mother, his father, his sister and his grandparents. Somehow, he learned how to turn two houses into home. He never complained, but he took on more than a teenager should have to.
Every year, I write a letter to him on his birthday. He’s never seen any of them, but this is an excerpt from the one I wrote on his first birthday:
“On this night before you leave babyhood and enter toddlerhood, my hopes and dreams for you are many. Mostly, I just want you to be happy and healthy. I wish you tons of friends, love and laughter. I look forward to each stage of your life. I will always look back to my memories of you as a baby, but I know that each stage will have its own memories. My advice for this year: Please know that success does not mean being powerful or rich. Success means taking care of yourself and those you love. Listen to God. He will show you the way to go.”
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got my flashlight ready. I’m going to go look at him one more time. And pretend that it’s June 4, 1995 – the first day he was home.