My oldest son turns 15 this week. This has plenty of implications regarding his teen spirit, but also on my run as a father. I turned 47 a couple of months ago. If you carry the one, means I have been a dad for nearly a third of my life.
It’s a funny thing, having built my writing career waxing melancholy on the always-closing, finger-smudged window of childhood and the tenderness thereof, to now engage in conversations with a son nearly as tall as me and with a voice just as deep. His little brother isn’t far behind him.
I admit that, in terms of monitoring milestones — the last being a jump in schools for both boys this past year — I have been focusing on the next year. That’s when the younger becomes a teen in his own right and the older is able to drive and, in theory, seek gainful employment. This year has been solely about the midterms.
Then it hit me. Those things will happen next year, but the impact is in the now not the waiting. Specifically, if my oldest son is driving (and possibly working) next summer, then this is the last summer of his always being here, lanky and lazy, stretched across the couch without worry or agenda. This is the last summer of the status quo and our comfort with it. The window of childhood is always closing so the question becomes this: Do we see the world through the opening or the stained pane sliding slowly across it?
I often feel I’ve squandered too much time. For instance, my staying home on a Sunday to write this very piece while my wife and boys spend the day at the beach, sand and sandwiches, their skin warm in the sun. Meanwhile, the house is quiet, save the occasional launch of laughter over the neighbor’s wall. That window shut before I even thought to take a peek through it.
When you think about, assuming you care to ponder such things, what side of the window of childhood are we really on?
When I was 15 I already had a job, one that my dad drove me to. I worked all day outside in the Arizona heat, making more character than money. That means I have been in the workforce for roughly two-thirds of my life.
This is becoming a word problem.
As a 15-year-old, I didn’t know a window from a hole in the wall. I was fairly confident childhood had closed far behind me, what with facial hair threatening to potentially come in nicely and the public knowledge I had almost kissed a girl. Next up: taxes.
Bonus question: When does childhood end? At 16? 18? 21? Will we know it for the trail of memories behind it or does it just become another window long forgotten, sealed by paint and weather?
My son, despite being smarter and more savvy than I was at his age, seems so innocent by comparison. He still seems like a kid, tall as he may be, and we are all happier for it.
At least until the next milestone.
Photos by Whit Honea, taken at Yosemite National Park