My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys."
- Harmon Killebrew
His birthday cake no longer has candles to be blown out.
The table napkins no longer feature Disney characters.
The cards in the mailbox are opened quickly, not so much to see the message but to see if money has come his way.
Yes, the child who carries my name and DNA into the future turned 12 last week, leaving his old man to think these birthdays come too quickly. The photos of his past dozen years still dot the house. A heavy framed portrait dominates the living room. The foyer table is clustered with images of his ball teams and vacation trips and school days and snowfalls.
Baby photos guard the nightstand on his mother's side of the bed.
But, I noticed the other day, we don't have so many pictures of him lately.
It seems as if there is some random age of youth - somewhere in the early grades - when images of the growing child become less coveted. It is that time when they are not so much displayed as family trophies but introduced as the predictable parental challenge.
In my fatherhood fraternity we used to talk about the neat things they were learning or the clever things they did or how far they could hit a ball.
Now we talk about the irritations, the tribulations and the need for a haircut.
His future remains a mystery, with a focus that changes as often as the calendar pages. I have not the slightest idea what profession he will eventually achieve that will afford his dear old dad adequate nursing home care.
Now at age 12, he is frustrating and thoughtful. Clever and sullen. Moody and funny. Usually all in the same afternoon.
I share his daily accomplishments guardedly. I am prone to announce to co-workers his academic achievements. I'll confide to other dads his occasional athletic success. And I will admit to his mother that I am profoundly proud of him when he tells me how he defended a friend or helped someone who didn't have one.
Twelve years have gotten us both to this point. Twelve more months and he's a teenager.
Ready or not, here we come.
Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.