SUPER: FRIDAY, 4:00AM
SFX: Garage door opens.
SFX: Luggage rolls down driveway.
SFX: Garage door closes.
SFX: Car door opens and closes.
EXT: Driveway. Suburban Austin. A CAR revs to life then pulls away.
VO: “And like that…he’s gone.”
To my dear Caleb -
It is not my intent to suggest you are anything like Keyser Söze. But, I can’t think of a different line of movie dialogue that resonates. For a brief moment, I thought about the end of Shane, where Brandon De Wilde utters that desperate 3-word cry “Shane, come back!” In the end, Usual Suspects was just a much cooler reference. (not to mention I don’t think the neighbors would have appreciated a blood curdling scream at 4am this morning.)
It wasn’t but a few days after April 21, 1999 that I had the first of many, not unique to me, realizations that there was no manual for how to raise a child. Here I am now, 18 years later, realizing there is no manual for how to let a child go.
It’s hard for me to not make this my mea culpa for the 18 years I’ve been your father. I am keenly aware that for as long as I can remember, I tend to use social media and blogging as a means to feel good about myself – to collect whatever positive responses come back my way. In short? I’m really good about making things about me. I'm even better at needing love and acceptance. Undoubtedly, I’m not the only parent to feel this way at this critical juncture, so if these thoughts show one other person they aren't alone, then it's worth it. Besides, as Warren Beatty so aptly said to Madonna in Truth or Dare, "There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera? What point is there existing?"
So, even now, on what should be the single most exciting journey you have yet to embark on, I find myself diving into my own regrets when I should be showing unconditional joy for you. This entire bidding you farewell experience has forced me to examine our relationship. Read on, I promise this doesn't stay 100% somber. Maybe only 70%. (comic relief so I don’t cry while typing).
My relationship with you has never been what one might call stereotypical – or maybe traditional is a better word. The life of a freelance producer is basically a modern version of the 50’s traveling salesmen. There were years when I was on the road upwards of 70% of the time. And in the beginning, when I was home, I would rock you, listening countless times to a lullaby CD we crafted, wondering how I would be able to work enough to provide for you the way I wanted to. For the record, it was usually triggered during the lyric “even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey” in Danny’s Song. Freelance and fatherhood was a tough combination. But, it’s what I did and, for better, or at times, for worse, it’s who I was.
I will never forget that first time I pulled out of the driveway for a long shoot to some far off place and you were standing in the window, face and hands pressed against the glass, with a look of equal part sadness and anger, as if to say, “you are leaving? Again?” At 2 ½ - 3 years old, it was impossible for me to explain why I had to go or even let you know that it devastated me as well. That said, you were always an old soul and part of me thinks you got it, even way back then.
While I worked the road, you and mommy forged a relationship that I now realize I wish we had. And it was not something I could obtain by being part time. You were home – together – nonstop - dealing with the good and the bad. I would glide in, expect things to go my way and never want to realize that there was a system in place and I could either go along with it or buck the system and push you all away.
We most certainly had our adventures and I relish every single one of them. I do know that I shied away at tough times - accepting the glory when I could sweep in and deflecting the not so glorious when things didn't go as per whatever plan I had in mind.
I cannot count the number of times where you had life moments – some large, some small - where it was easy to celebrate the highs, but too often, I would manage to jack something up by implying what would have made it even better or ways you could have done it - to be more like me.
On that pivotal night back in April, 2013, when you so bravely came out to me, I spent the next several months thinking about how that affected me. Quite sincerely, I told people how proud I was that you knew who you were and you were not going to hide from it. I was proud of you - I was ecstatic for you. But, deep inside, I had thoughts about how that realization weighed on me. In hindsight, I wish I had handled it better, but not sure I was equipped to do so. As the years go by, you continue to push me - to use proper terminology or correct me when I say something that is insensitive. But that pushing is met with deep respect - you are our future's hope and I am optimistic you will change lives with your life and your voice.
So, I am using this letter to let you know that I refuse to let MY sadness of you leaving get in the way. I am here to tell you that I am, above all, proud of you for finding your college – the one that was your choice and is the perfect fit. I am proud of you for the effort you put in by visiting the school, the essays that you wrote, and the decision to put it all out there by going early admission. I am proud of you for going in to it with a strong attitude of working hard and pursuing your dreams. I am excited for you to experience life away from home – as I still have such amazing memories from when I had the same. I want to celebrate with you – rather celebrate YOU – when you experience the highs life will bring you – falling in love, succeeding at school, making lifelong friendships. And I will be here for you should you suffer the lows that undoubtedly come with growing up – whether it be a broken heart, a missed opportunity, or, most likely, missing me. (comic relief so I don’t cry while typing).
My wish is for you to be you – and if that brings you the happiness I know it will, then that is all I can hope for. Asking you to be me was never something I had the right to impose on you. The good news is you didn't fall for the banana in the tailpipe. You are definitely forging your own path and for that I applaud you.
To all of you parents out there? I am sharing this because this is life. And at this very moment in time, life hurts. A lot. And all I want are assurances from life - but it won’t give them to me.
I want to know Caleb will be ok. I want to know that Lauren and Toby will be ok. And for that matter, I want to know I will be ok. I know I have many friends who just went through this same process and they are still breathing. I have friends who went through this years ago and both them and their kids are still breathing. It’s easy to want to cross the finish line without running the race, but that’s not how it goes.
In the end? The lesson is parental joy should come from watching your child become their own person. Not your shadow. Not a better you. Their own self. And parents? When times are tough? Look for the good. It’s there. Sometimes it’s hiding in the cracks during frustrating or angering times, but, it’s there.
So, off you go, Caleb. As your own self. And here I stay. Counting days until Parents Weekend and Thanksgiving. Sending texts and emails hoping I will get even a one word response. (hint)
To Mr. Chapin and Mr. Stevens? Sorry to say, I may never listen to Cat’s in the Cradle or Father and Son ever again. #sorrynotsorry
Caleb – you and mommy will always have special things, but when it comes to loving you from the moon to the stars to mars, and back again, I do. From the top of the mountains to the bottom of the ocean and back again, I do.
SUPER: THE END…FOR NOW.