And so I find myself searching for something to say, something that needs to be said, something pithy, and preferably something of timeless value. I've got nothing. I've had a little over 18 years to share what I know about how to live and survive with this baby boy that's become a young man, and now it seems too late to cram in the last crucial bits, as if I have any to share anyway. I've lived my life in much more of an observe and react mode than a plan and execute mode; there's no way I can piece the journey back together and extract the wisdom, primarily because not a lot of wisdom was involved in the first place.
Like the imminent test, at this point he either gets it or he doesn't. Poor fellow. He should've picked better parents.
Oh, I have tons of practical advice. For example, set your drink limit at two, though in my personal experience, once you get to two, three is inevitable. Or, it's perfectly fine to meet and marry a woman of the north, aka: a Yankee, as long as she is wealthy enough to make up for that deficiency. Or, try to memorize a few snippets of Shakespeare or Shelley (not the Frankenstein one); it might come in handy. That sort of advice has some value, but I'm not sure it's appropriate for this significant life change. I know my college years were a clear line of demarcation, and I expect his to be the same. It's a shame that all I have to offer are jaded observations, not the words to live by that I've always wished had been clearly given to me.
I say that, wishing for words to live by, because somehow I think it would have made the journey easier to have a compass point, a guiding light, something more concrete than 'Please God, help me make the right choices today.' There have been many times in my life when I've sat and wondered "where to next?" or "how did I get here?" or "how did I get here!" and for some reason I think it might have been better if I had known what was next, if I had known what choices had landed me in this particular trouble or that particular delight. But now, thinking back on the jumble of turning points, the risks taken and those not, the over-thought and what-the-hell decisions, I realize mine was not to be a well-planned, comfortable journey. And I wouldn't trade it. I own it. It's mine.
I suppose, in a pinch, that would be my advice, Griffin. Own it. That attractive young woman in your freshman English class? Ask her out or don't, but own that decision and don't regret it. Take the course that requires more effort, or don't. Just admit it was your choice and if, later on, it turns out to be a poor one, make a better choice next time. Throughout life we all have the option, the choice, to become a better person, to improve ourselves, to change our course for the better. In our current society, heading off to college is the perfect chance to do that. I love you, but you are not perfect. You will make bad decisions. Own them. Do better next time. Take advantage of this opportunity; it seems the stakes get higher the older you get.
And now, in a sort of metaphysical "Dad, please stop talking you are embarrassing me" way, I'd like to share something that may be helpful. Or it may not. You decide.
Throughout my life I have encountered what I call "all right" moments, when it simply feels like I am in the right place, doing the right thing. In a weird way, Matthew McConaughey's catchphrase,
I remember sitting on the back porch of a ratty old rent house on Avenue A in Denton, Texas, with Dr. Matt doing his best to grill some on-sale sirloins on a home-made hibachi and thinking, "I am where I belong."
I remember humbly asking for my job back, after quitting from some immature snit that I immediately knew was not right, and David Johnson graciously letting me come back.
I remember being at the gate at the Atlanta-Hartsfield airport on Labor Day weekend 1982, waiting for your mother to arrive, who at the time was my long-distance girlfriend, and thinking, "I have to ask her."
I remember driving home from Baylor Hospital in Dallas in late September, 1996, in your mother's Lexus, with the moon roof open and the radio blasting, and being absolutely certain that we were ready for the big change in our lives that had just happened.
I remember riding in the pickup with you in March 2001, shortly after my father's funeral. You were 4 years old and out of the blue you said "The good cowboys always get the girl, don't they." And I said "Yes. Yes they do."
I remember waking up with what seemed like an imperative to-do one day, to introduce Pastor Cheryl to Uncle Neil. I frequently thank God for that one.
I remember sitting at a picnic table in a park in Frisco, praying for a sign in our search for a new pastor at Bentwood Trail, and a few minutes later seeing a purple lightning bolt on the projector screen, just before Pastor Elizabeth began her sermon.
I remember meeting your mother in the garage, the day she came home with her biopsy results, and she hugged me and she cried and she wanted to know how we were going to tell you. And despite me being as scared as she was, I knew I was in the right place, and that she was wrong to be worried about you. I knew you would be a strength and a comfort for her, not a source of concern.
And now, today, tonight, as I sit listening to random music, sipping on that second drink, or maybe the third, trying to put something coherent together, because writing is now what I do to deal with these life-changing way-points, I realize that you have already given me the "all right" moment. It is Bach, Suite No. 1 (click to hear).
I listen to it daily. It's a minute forty-seven, just a snippet of you playing saxophone at church, and I long to hear more. I want to hear the full piece. I want to know how it ends. I want to be awed by your musicianship, and wonder "was that a mistake, or intentional?" I want to say "this is mine, I made this possible," but I know it's yours. That you own it, and that it, and what it represents, is all right. Your talent. Your work. Your choices. It is the evidence of your path so far, and it gives me comfort that it's gonna be all right in the future.