The following was printed (The Boise Weekly) on June 13, 2001
“It’s unsettling, isn’t it? There are only so many things you can teach a child, and finally, they are who they are.” —from “Looking for Bobby Fischer,” a movie about hoping things turn out okay for a kid.
I went to a graduation ceremony last week. First one I’ve been to since May of ‘65. See, I put graduation ceremonies on the same whoopee level as weddings and funerals, though admittedly, in 36-years I’ve been to a few weddings and more than enough funerals. The funerals? Well … ya’ gotta go, know what I mean? And the weddings? Well … at least with funerals, you don’t have to bring a gift.
But graduation ceremonies, I’ve skipped. Thirty-six years worth of them. I’m as happy as anyone that little Johnny, my life-long bestest friend’s shining son, or little Janie, my cousin thrice removed on my mother’s side, have wrestled public school and won. Or later on when they grow up a little more, you bet I’m impressed when they prove college isn’t as tough as I tried to make it sound when I flunked English 101.
But when Johnny and Janie go through the line, everybody else’s kid goes with them. You don’t run into that sort of thing at funerals and weddings. Nope, with weddings and funerals, it’s a one-at-a-time deal, and brother, does that save on time. Face it, when it comes to graduation ceremonies, its those other kids that take up all the time.
* * *
The more time goes by, the more troublesome it gets. When I was younger and not a father, I skipped drawn-out affairs like graduations because I didn’t want to blow the time. It was lazy, no doubt, but a laziness of the temporal sort. A laziness of hours rather than a laziness of labor. I just didn’t want to exert that much time, not when I had quicker things to do.
It’s changed. It’s not so much the drawn-out hours that trouble me now, it’s those fly-by ones. And it’s no longer laziness because I work like hell to keep up. It’s more like being in a coma, a temporal coma, only now and then I pop up and wonder what’s happening.
I pop up and ask my wife, “ Ya’ know when our girl took her first step? Was that last week or was it a month ago?”
“Bill, that was 11 years ago. What’s wrong with you? She’s almost done with the fifth grade.”
Oh yeah. I knew that. It’s all coming back to me. Helping buckle up her OshKosh’s. Waiting outside Missuss Gangwer’s kindergarten class, looking for the jiggle of her pig-tails to come racing out the door. And that time when we went from me reading her “Green Eggs and Ham” to her reading me “Green Eggs and Ham.” What a thrill that was, almost as bright as the grin on her face the exact moment she figured out the two-wheeler thing. Now there was a whoopee level event. I don’t know who was whoopier, her or me. Same with her first little piano recital, and her first little night away from Mom&Pop and her first little Christmas program and her first little this and her first little that and, Jeez … how could I forget?
Well, I didn’t, really. Those moments are in my head like the smell of talcum powder on a tiny bare butt or the color of that big crayon sun she put over her first little crooked crayon house. But sometimes, they feel like false memories. Like something I dreamed of and didn’t want to wake up from.
When I became a father, I got tons of advice. But nobody told me those moments would be gone quicker than it takes to grasp what a treasure they are.
* * *
So last week I went to a graduation ceremony. Back in ‘65, we didn’t have graduation ceremonies for fifth graders, but we didn’t have a lot of things back in ‘65 they have now. We didn’t have “tweens.” We had “sixth-graders,” instead. And we didn’t have middle schools crammed with 1500 kids and zero tolerance policies and disturbing threats scrawled on bathroom walls. And we didn’t have the dreadful pressure of feeling that if your kid doesn’t stay on top and out front from the first toddling step to the first job application, the tike is doomed. It’s a colder, crueler sixth-grade she’s going to, more so than we could have imagined back in ‘65.
So I bit the bullet, the temporal bullet, and went. She needs to know, no matter how cold and cruel things get, I’ll show up. I’ll come and be there, and not even a drawn-out graduation ceremony could stop me. Oh yes, I’m brave. But she’ll have to be braver.
Actually, for a drawn-out affair, it went pretty quick. I didn’t even mind the other kids being there. They worked hard, too, and grew up fast, and anyway, it would have been silly to have a graduation ceremony for just my kid alone.
Besides, they all did it together and they all have the same survival course to look forward to. From here on out, she’ll be depending on those other kids as much as she depends on ‘ol Mom&Pop.
I knew it was coming, but I can’t say I like it.
June 13, 2001