Child's birthday gives dad lots to ponder

Children are a great comfort in your old age -- and they help you reach it faster, too.

-- Lionel Kauffman

This weekend, my teenage son celebrated his first birthday away from the folks.

A church youth trip took him to a neighboring state and left his middle-age parents alone at home. We used the time to ponder what life is like without the cake and party that have been such a big deal the past 14 years.

Mom mostly moped.

She has washed and folded piles of his clothes and carefully put them away. And she has done so quietly, expressing only the mildest irritation at finding yet another sock stuffed under a bed or behind a chair.

The little dog seems to realize his largest playmate is not around and will push open the door to the bedroom at the end of the hall and sniff for answers to the mystery.

Dad is more the analyst.

A parent, he knows, is supposed to be the teacher, but he has come to the conclusion that being a parent is mostly about learning things you thought you knew, but didn't.

A partial list reveals:

- A teenager's memory is a study of extremes. He will forget in five seconds that you told him not to turn on the TV until he finishes homework.

He remembers, however, a vague suggestion made a year before that you would give him cash for an "A" in math.

He not only remembers the suggested amount but also the time of day and the shirt you were wearing.

- You find yourself interested in coaching the sports he's playing. You enjoy the company of the other parents and his teammates. And then, as his interests change and move on to other things, so do yours.

You miss the old friendships and camaraderie, but there are new things to do, new demands for time and life goes on.

- He's not you. His mother says this all the time. You've accepted that he does not love books. He does not like to get up hours before dawn to read quietly. He does not care for baseball (and it almost breaks his father's heart).

- You're not him. You don't understand the fascination with video games and always lose interest within minutes of turning one on.

- As any growing boy, his appetite is a wonder. He is always hungry. The amount of food consumed is staggering.

- There is also that strange feeling when your child begins to borrow your clothes.

There is an even stranger feeling when you borrow his golf shoes and they are too big.

So it goes.

You consider the man within the child.

You see the future. You see the past.

You see yourself, connecting them.

And you see it all on a birthday without the candles.

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