Sunday, December 12, 2010

21 years later

My son turns 21 today. I can't even believe it. It seems like only yesterday that my wife and I were trying to figure out how life works when there are suddenly three of you instead of only two. Now it's 21 years later. Where the hell did the time go?

I think 21 is the birthday that grabs someone who's still pretty much a kid and yanks them into adulthood, whether they're ready for it or not. People mature at different rates, but once you hit 21 you've got the "adult" label on you for the rest of your life.

As my son turns 21, I'm not sure if he's ready for that full-time "adult" status. He may be deemed an adult by the general public, but I know he still has a lot of growing up to do. He probably knows that, too.

Twenty-one is also the "magical" age in our society that allows someone to legally drink alcohol. As I've mentioned before, I'm scared to death that my son might decide to start drinking, even though alcohol has never been his drug of choice. I think he's only drank a handful of times in his life, and he openly admits that he hated it. I hope he continues to feel that way.

While I can certainly hope for what the future holds, there's no way I can control it. Lord knows I've been reminded of that on more occasions than I can count. But for today I'll revel in the fact that my adult son who lives at home will most likely spend his evening taking 21 shots at enemy troops in some video game he'll be playing on his new PS3 instead of trying to down 21 shots of alcohol in some bar or dorm room.

When you become a parent, nothing is guaranteed. You hope that your children are healthy and intelligent, and grow up to be fine adults. But if there are a few bumps in the road along the way--like addiction and depression--you have to improvise and ad lib to the best of your ability in order to help everyone--most importantly, your child--get through it. There's no owner's manual. It's like trying to figure out the most complicated computer software known to mankind just by sitting down and playing around with it. Trial and error. Over and over and over again.

All this somehow brings me back to what I think is the most powerful passage in David Sheff's remarkable book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction. It is a passage I quote with much frequency:

"Our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating."

Yes, our children our "ours," and they always will be. But at some point, the responsibility for their lives transfers over to them, and we as parents just have to sit back and watch. Watch and hope that they can figure things out for themselves.

So, as my son turns 21 today--actually, at 9:57 pm tonight--I will celebrate his passage into "official" adulthood; not by taking him out for a beer, but by cooking him a birthday meal at home and eating some cake and ice cream with him and the rest of our family. And while he's making a wish and blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, I'll be making a secret little wish of my own.

Happy 21st birthday, son. I love you more than words can say.

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