A father's reflection on graduation
To the Editor:
A lone “Congratulations Graduate” balloon dances in the wind, kissing the railing of a deck that looks out over a hastily landscaped yard. It was just last week when several dozen family and friends came together, for the second time, for the last time, to take our turn in the annual ritual of celebrating a commencement. It was quite a party on a clear blue sky day, a beginning reminder that the main difference between a high school senior graduate and a college freshman is a unit of time called summer.
Gabriel looked different in his cap and gown, a formal version of his otherwise laid back self, sunglasses and smiles, a quiet pride, his holiday falling on time. He was at times, unrecognizable, this young man, this tower of black and gold, still his father's son. When the ceremony was over I stood near the football field 50-yard line amassed with other parents, the familiar sound of clicking cameras, shutters letting in the light of memory, with different configurations of family and friends posing with their guest of honor. Oddly enough, I longed for a half time, to stop time, and rewind, to review the video tapes of the past 17 years. No such luck. I disagree with whoever said time was created to make sure everything did not happen at once. I was here, living in the past, present and future — at midfield, in midlife. Tomorrow I would be somewhere else.
Time slowed only within me, continuing at a feverish pace without me. I force fed myself thoughts to remain focused, to take in all the detail, to dedicate these memories to legacy, to assure that this sunset would not soon be forgotten. I struggled with full celebratory embrace, distracted by a flood of simultaneous moments, a tsunami of emotion, a private big bang, starting with the crowning of Gabe’s head leaving his mother’s body, taking his first breath in an uncertain world, he not yet knowing of my devotion, my promise to be sure of him forever.
In the days and weeks leading up to the graduation, Gabe was putting his finishing touches on a valuable and value high school career, punctuating the last of events - classes, prom, exams, performances at his home away from school — the Regional Center for the Arts. I imagine some exclamation points mixing with some questions.
“Go out in style,” I reminded him. “You’ll be glad you did,” I added, sounding predictable, with conviction, that I had imparted some distilled truth after years of churning my own questions, filtering through years of thoughts to find the ones that really ever matter. This was one of them. Gabe, still his father's son, already knew it.
I said it anyway, as his father, fearing I was running out of words, feeling like I was, for the moment, running out of time, my only solace in smiling and knowing that the sun is most beautiful when it is setting. Slowly and surely aging gracefully becomes a goal and a success. I will, if wise enough, avail myself to becoming a student once again, of new beginnings. This graduating class will be my teacher. I, too, want to go out in style.
Although no child comes with operating instructions, a father’s instinct to love, to point his child in the direction of their own path would be my guide, my manual, through the years, to this moment of an unintended onset of ‘manopause.’ Parents should see their children as gifts, borrowed for just so long, then, as life gave them to us, so must we, at this moment, return them to life, so they can find his way, her way, their way.
The football field crowd started to thin. I saw the backs of so many towers of black and gold, walking into their not so distant future, wishing each and every one, quietly, certainly, a singular 'congratulations.' They did not hear me. They were heading in the direction of their dreams. They were listening only to their plans for tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that. This is the way it is supposed to be. A circle game. I imagine that black and golds would have their own commencement celebrations with their own families, their own friends, who made their own promises to keep their new graduate close. Home is where all of our stories begin.
I started to the exit with so many other celebrants, reluctantly, leaving the comfort of the 50-yard line, this safe harbor. I took one last look at the field, saw a setting sun, and headed in the direction of my dreams. In spite of an impulse to turn my head just one more time, I never looked back. It was time to leave.
A new game was about to begin, again.