My son is getting married on Friday. That means his life is flashing before my eyes. I suppose this happens to every parent on the eve of a child’s marriage. As I look at the handsome young man before me, I keep seeing the child — and the pre-teen and the teen and the high school grad and the college student.
Over the last 26 years, we’ve spent a lot of time together — long bike rides along the Cache le Poudre River in Ft. Collins, Colo., when he fit snugly in the bike seat on the back of my Schwinn LeTour (which I still ride). Three years as a housespouse in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., during his pre-school days when he was my constant companion — one of the happiest periods of my life.
I spent many hours sitting on cold metal bleachers or standing along the sidelines, watching him turn from an awkward, gangly youngster into a strong, graceful athlete. If I had all the five-dollar bills I dropped into the till at Stella’s batting cages, I could probably pay for his honeymoon.
We’ve also traveled together — everything from train rides to a drive around Lake Michigan to a Caribbean cruise to the trip to Ireland where he met the woman he’ll marry in two days. We never made it to DisneyWorld, but we visited Cape Kennedy and Gettysburg, Cooperstown and Williamsburg, Niagara Falls and Mt. Rushmore, Mackinac Island and the Grand Canyon (hiked it from rim to rim, in fact). And we did make it to Disneyland.
In a closet at home, I have a box stuffed with ticket stubs and brochures from things we’ve done and places we’ve gone. Someday, I hope, he’ll enjoy rummaging through all that memorabilia.
We visited colleges, and I stood on more sidelines and sat on more metal bleachers as he ran cross-country for Dominican and played football for Concordia. We’ve hunkered down in the Lake Theatre more times than I can count and attended several dozen Kane County Cougar games over the last two decades. I followed him around on the worst Halloween in recorded history, through the freezing cold and sleet, because, well, Halloween only lasts so long in a kid’s life — though it lasted longer for him than most. We were teammates on a recreational softball team in Oak Park for seven glorious years.
On the spectrum of parental involvement, I straddled the line between very involved and over-involved. That’s probably typical of my generation. As parents, his mom and I did our best, but I never knew if it was good enough. That’s probably typical too.
And we talked, more than he wanted to probably, but I came to respect his developing mind and trust his insight, though he’s still too quick to judge. However reluctant he might sometimes be, he’s willing to listen. It helps if a free meal is included.
We talk about sports and movies and politics, but also about the divorce and his relationships and his career path prospects. I usually come away reassured, sometimes impressed, by his ability to be honest about his imperfections and his recognition of how far he still needs to go.
His veneer of cool hides how much he worries about things. And he’s always thinking. Sometimes, he says, he thinks too much.
I’m proud of my son, he exasperates me, and I worry about him plenty. And I look forward to spending time with him — about par for the course, I suppose, for a father-son relationship.
I kick myself constantly over all the things I didn’t do or didn’t do better. But my regrets don’t include laziness. From the beginning, I’ve been on board for the whole journey, however it turns out.
Friday is the next step in that journey. Kristen is a wonderful young woman who will be a genuine partner. I like her very much. More important, Dylan loves her. If they can maintain respect for one another and have the courage to talk through the tough things, they’ve got a good shot at a great life together.
Wedding day is a blur for many people, but I told him he’ll be fine if he pays attention to three things:
1) How she looks that day — not what she’s wearing but her face. Imprint that in memory.
2) When the time comes, say “I do” from your deep heart’s core.
3) Remember that first kiss as man and wife for the rest of your life.
The rest is celebration.