I’ve said before that being an engaged father is akin to hiking a heavily forested area. The life with kids and their activities is a forest for the trees experience as the rush from one place to the next fills your vision and planner and you don’t always have the opportunity to take a moment to reflect. But then your wooded trail comes to a ridgeline and you can suddenly see for miles, backwards to where you’ve been as well as forward to what lies ahead and you sit for a moment and take it all in. Such was the case this weekend as Eldest – who was in middle school when I first thought of this site – graduated from college.
The benefit of arriving early to grab seats for elderly relatives was that I could look in different directions from the ridgeline. When I looked in one direction, considering the event in terms of this website, Eldest had progressed from middle-schooler to college graduate. Middle, the elementary school kid at the site’s inception, had arrived the previous day with his grandparents, who picked him up at a nearby train station where he’d caught a morning train from the city where he himself is now in college. Youngest, at the outset just entering kindergarten, was now himself in middle school and en route to becoming a truly stalwart adult of honestly surprising capabilities of observation and common sense. When the doors finally opened and I found seats that worked, my Better Half ushered in her parents and the sons followed with Boyfriend, who had come along unannounced to surprise Eldest.
In another direction from the ridge was to see things in terms of the college experience and while one was now graduating college, the youngest was still a good two years away from beginning the pathway to higher education; it will probably be a college degree given his growing skill set and inclination, but the reality is that the cost of a degree is such that it can no longer be the de facto choice, the road taken simply because it’s what everybody is expected to do when high school is finished. My wife and I have now lived through two rounds of college solicitations – and folks, it’s fascinating to see how different the college mailings are from one kid to the next – and prospect visits, completion of the dreaded FAFSA and the excitement of the acceptances and first moves away from home. What also crossed my mind was that the funding of college was now a family affair. This was, for Eldest, a communal family effort as her debt-free degree was in due to multiple parts: a decent scholarship that made the difference between this particular university and a local state university; four years of hard work through summer jobs to help pay for her annual contribution to the cause; years of savings and then input into the pot by us; and a lovely piece of generosity from another elderly relative.
In another direction was the view of my own age and mortality. It’s now more than two decades since Eldest’s birth and as she has aged, so have I. Some years ago, a now-deceased elderly friend commented to me that in his head, he was the same guy who once served as a Marine and a firefighter and I have come to appreciate his statement. All three of the kids have grown up knowing that their father has a physical debility and each has adapted to it through the years. But it’s fallen most upon Youngest to help pick up the slack caused by the issue and his siblings’ college absence. It’s a most curious coincidence that he is now the largest and strongest of any of us within the household, most capable of picking up and covering for said slack and I go to lengths to avoid abusing him because of it. I have to admit that there was conflict between personal pride and common sense during the wait, as I considered a lengthy drive behind the wheel of a 16′ box truck with no cruise control and it was only after acknowledging to myself that I’m no longer a thirty-something young father, that I agreed to let someone else handle that aspect of the move. I plan to be around for Youngest’s event in less than a decade but there’s a point at which you realize that it’s time to adjust the speed downwards and go for distance instead of speed.
But doors open, crowds enter and the view fades and you are once again in the forest amidst the trees, waiting for that next moment when you reach the ridge. Maybe I should make it a point to try for the ridgeline more often.