It has been a long time, but I do remember when I used to show up at my son's preschool, or even his elementary school as a surprise, and his eyes would go wide as he realized that daddy was there. I cherish those memories of the connection we share, specifically those that brought him across the room in a rush for a big hug. He's going to be seventeen next week. He's not rushing across the room anymore.
Not in public, anyway. And certainly not in front of his peers. This past weekend I went to see the play for which he was doing some very impressive tech work. I stood with my wife just a few feet away from where he was chatting up his fellow techies and preparing for the closing night's performance. I waited for that recognition, which finally came not from him but from a couple of his friends. I can't claim to be shocked by this change. I've been aware of it over the years and I have become increasingly aware of his at-school persona as he has made his way from grade to middle to high schools. I know what social death awaits any high school student who would race across the auditorium to embrace their parents. I get that. It doesn't keep me from dying inside, just a little.
That's because I remember what it was like to have my parents around when I was busy trying to become whoever it was that I was trying to become in high school. My parents were Band Parents, a fiercely loyal and hard-working bunch who showed up early and stayed late, sewing up uniform pants and loading vans full of equipment. My father got himself put in charge of the concession stands for home football and basketball games. I saw him almost as often as I saw many of my friends. My friends all thought he was great. He was so funny. He was so cool. Which would have been great if A) those weren't the exact things I was trying to be and B) he was my father. This generated a distance between my father and I that neither one of us ever fully understood or talked about, but it persisted until I graduated from college.
In both cases, my relationship between my son and with my father, I never doubted how close we were and how much love we shared. That foundation was laid a long time ago, and even when I can't get eye contact from my son, I know that he knows what my father knew: we are bound together. It would be indiscreet to talk about the hugs I still get from my son and the affection that is only visible when we don't have to worry about that distance we both know has to be there. I know that my father went to his grave with a kiss and a hug that I gave him at the airport just before he took his last flight. I don't mind anybody knowing that. Now. It's been a long time since I was seventeen.