Twenty-five years ago today, my son was born. I’m going to take this opportunity with him a happy birthday on a quarter century of life lived and wish him a fabulous year ahead as he has a great start on the next twenty-five years.
My son came out weighing about nine and a half pounds. There’s a joke in my family (okay, it’s my joke, but it still applies) and that is the observation that if you kid comes out under nine pounds, it’s because you weren’t trying very hard!
In fact, he was a bit post-term and needed to be induced to come out. I think he was just comfortable and didn’t see a lot of upside in to exiting his comfy pad.
After many, many hours of labor, the determination was made that while he had started down the birth canal, he big ‘ol head kind of got wedged. All brains, that boy. As a result, he had to exit stage right via Caesarian.
From the start he was an easy going baby. Always happy to cuddle, eating well, napping nicely and sleeping through the night within the first six months. In fact, his room had a window to a busy arterial so there was a fair bit of traffic including police cars and fire engines. We were very concerned that the noise would wake the boy up but that was never really a problem. He slept through the occasional cacophony just fine. This would serve him well when he became a teenager and had the ability to sleep for a dozen hours without interruption. It did not serve him well when it came to getting up early in the morning to get to school on time!
I recall when he first started reading by himself. Well, actually, that came a bit later. When we thought he first started reading, we were buying him Goosebumps books. These were kid-friendly and slightly scary. He would go off and read these books and tell us how much he liked them. I started to get a bit suspicious because when I would ask him about them, the details seemed a bit shaky. So, before handing over one of the books to him, I read it myself, then handed it over to him. Sure enough, within a few days he came back and was giving us an enthusiastic review of the book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually the story in the book. When I called him on it, he admitted that he couldn’t actually really read it, but really liked getting the books. I suspect we probably set up an expectation with him and he didn’t want to let us down. After all that came out, we worked a bit more directly with him on his reading and in no time he actually was reading the books at a good clip.
The “Harry Potter” books started coming out when he was 11 and that was the same age that Harry was in the first book. He absolutely consumed that entire series, as I did along with him. I recall that for at least one of the books, I had to buy two copies because I didn’t want to wait the two or three weeks it would take him to get through before I could read it!
He and I also used to play video games together. Originally he would sit with me and watch me play DOOM and other first person games. His mom was worried because the graphics were, for the time, fairly bloody and graphic. And they were, but it did not seem to be a problem. Later, he and I would play together or, more likely, competitively. This was fun for me up through Warcraft 2. When Starcraft came out, though, something changed. I knew that I was getting older but what I didn’t understand was how much better he had become! In no time at all my son was consistently handing my ass to me without mercy. This was the first, but certainly not the last time, that my son would best me in something that I used to think I was good at. And, yeah, he was probably 11. Unsurprisingly, playing Starcraft with my son became far, far less fun…
When my son was 13 he was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma in his tibia near the knee. Originally presenting as simply a sore leg, not at all abnormal for a boy whose legs were growing quickly, it was quickly determined to be a tumor and an aggressive one. Because of the proximity to the growth plate, the doctors had to move us quickly because if it got out to the growth plate, the odds were very high that the cancer would get out and in to other parts of his body. As a result, we had to decide quickly the path forward and the best option was still a very hard one: he needed to have his lower leg removed.
Thinking back on this time, I can say it was definitely one of the hardest times of my life and without any hesitation I can say if there’d been any way to take on that tumor myself and save him what he had in front of him, I would have.
What was amazing to me was how well he seemed to take the news, how well he was able to participate in the discussion about options and tradeoffs. He was clear: “What’s the right choice for best odds of getting through this? Let’s do that. Let’s go!” And, very quickly, almost too quickly, it was done and my son was in a hospital bed short the lower portion of one leg.
The next few years were a blur of time in the hospital, brief recovery, lots and lots of rounds of chemotherapy, physical therapy, far too many trips to the hospital and through it all my son being clear that his goal was to get through this to the next thing. And, in less than two years, he was back up on his feet, albeit one of those being a prosthetic which he decorated with stickers or cool covers. Looking back I’m amazed at what a trooper he was. I wish I’d thought at the time that he was almost too okay with things. I suspect, in retrospect, that we should have made sure he was getting counseling to help him deal with all the changes and how his life had suddenly taken a sharp turn to a different path. I think I made a mistake to take his apparent aplomb at face value. I think that was wishful thinking on my part. It’s not the only time I messed up as a parent, but it’s still one that sticks with me.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact having cancer had on my son. You never get to see the other half of “what would he be like if that hadn’t happened”. Funnily enough, that was one characteristic I saw from my son that I think I can work on more. He became very good at making the decision and moving forward, not apparently second guessing himself. That’s something I know I could work on in my own life.
We drifted apart some in his teen years, as often happens, I think, while he tried to work out who he was going to be separate from his parents. I’ve been actively parenting four kids now through the teen years and in all cases we would say “they went to the Dark Side” but I’m also happy to say he came out the other side and I like the young man that emerged from all of that.
My son is smart and funny. He’s sweet and he has good friends he’s close with and has stuck with even as they grow up and grow apart. At twenty five, the boy can grow a beard that would make a young Santa Claus jealous. Certainly I am and certainly those genes didn’t come from my side of the family.
I like the young man he is continuing to become. I see parts of me, I see parts of his mother and I see a great deal that is wholly just who he is. I can tell that parts of how I tried to parent him made their way in and have helped inform who he is as an adult and I can see that there is a large part that is a result of him making choices about who he will be, what his priorities are and what his goals for the future are.
I realize more now than ever that you’re never really done parenting. You’re never done worrying that your kids will be okay and hopefully lead happy and satisfying lives. But, as much as I can be, I’m confident he’s in a good place, he’s on a good path and he’s going to be okay.
Happy Birthday, my son. I love you and I’m proud of you and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next quarter century has in store for you!