The High School Years –

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I remember sitting in the hospital in Honolulu when he was born. I was 24, he was late. Our families were planning on going home the next day. The doctor decided to induce Cheryl to encourage Cole to join us on the outside. Cole tends to do things on his own good sense of timing and order. Should’ve realized that then.

It was a meaningful moment for me, to say nothing of what it meant to Cheryl. I held him and looked into his grey eyes and saw the rest of my life.

Yesterday he started high school. He’s 14, which means, well, I’ll let you do the math.

I remember my first day of high school. There is an uncertainty inherent in the unknowns associated with entering a new era, but there is the realization of the impending finality of the primary school years. The end is near, and you can feel that at the beginning of it all.

A doctor measured Cole’s height this week during a physical for school. He’s been taller than me for a few months now, but I refused to let him measure himself against me. As a dad, you can’t give up that easy. Some days you let them know they can win and other days you keep them trying so they learn they have to.

But it’s hard to argue with a doctor’s note.

There’s an element of pride in all of this. Cole was a big reason for moving to Chicago. He has been in need of some stability so he can focus on his college and career ambitions. My journalistic nomadism has not given him that so far.

Yesterday he told me about how he is taking four honors classes this semester. He’s taking German for his language, but it’s not because I took German in high school. He’s taking German because he’s interested in design, and Germany has some of the best design schools in the world.

He is not me. My experience will not be his. I’m so grateful for this.

After hearing of his course load and interest in German, I felt like I needed to say something. Dad’s often make this mistake. Approval does not often need words. Sometimes the unspoken approval of our fathers counts for much more.

I told Cole, who had a girlfriend in Alaska, that he should consider really throwing himself into his studies instead of losing focus on those other rights of passage that tend to define high school.

He looked at me with that look that he gives me when he wonders why I’m just repeating, out-loud, the thoughts already going through his mind.

“I know, dad, I’m going to be too busy for a girlfriend,” he said, in that low voice that still throws me sometimes when I hear the wisdom in it.

It has been this way long before we had schools in brick buildings with mandated testing straight out of an Orwell novel.

Fathers watch their children grow into something more than themselves. It’s one of the wonders of this existence, the magnification of life. It’s the molecular level of empire building.

Watching my son turn into something bigger than both of us are individually is frightening and thrilling. I feel my youth like yesterday, and I’m still looking for a  bigger canvas on which to leave my mark, though I realize the error of this thought process keenly with each passing month. But watching him looking farther down the road than I did and dreaming bigger is so satisfying, in a way I’m reasonably sure you can only feel after spending  14 years growing something that you love beyond words.

I never felt it at the city league soccer games he played or the cross country races he ran. Though I certainly felt pride in my son.

But I feel it keenly today as he walks into a world I never knew. A brighter, stronger and hungrier version of me.

And and I think that everything is as it should be.

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