I spent a lot of years dragging strays home to my parents' house. I understand that the term "strays" sounds somewhat pejorative, but it is an attempt to describe the way my family would absorb kids from other families that didn't have the strong center that ours provided. Starting in elementary school, I had a sense of which of my friends would really benefit from a dose of what was the Caven nuclear family. My mom baked cakes and cookies. My dad played ping pong with us. There was genuine interest in what went on at school. When I was asked what I had learned that day, I knew that the answer mattered. My parents gave that vibe to the kids that came home with me, and the friends that both of my brothers gave the same experience. There is a vast sea of adopted children who call my parents "Mom and Dad." In some ways, this helped solidify the feeling I had that I never really needed to leave that home. That was a place of comfort, safety and acceptance for a generation. My mother still gets the occasional phone call or Christmas card from the kids she helped when their own parents got too busy to be a part of their lives. My father's memory is one cherished by a group of adoring fans who remember the way they felt when they walked in the front door.
Rushing forward to late last week, my son was out busying himself with the farewells to his hometown haunts and friends that he would be leaving behind to go off to college. He was driving around the city with the gang of kids that had christened themselves "The Kind." The clock was ticking on the moments they would all spend together, even though a large portion of that group were headed off to school together. It was important for them to have last tag on the faces and places of their youth. Which is why I was so incredibly flattered to have them land on our front porch at nine thirty last Thursday. It was still a school night for me, a fact they respected even though they were flirting with the idea of pulling an all-nighter in order to get in all the conversations and connections they wanted to pursue before they packed up and headed out of town for their next great adventure. The Kind had stopped by my house to say goodnight to me. My son his buddies trooped into my bedroom and hung out for fifteen or twenty minutes, chatting up my wife and I as part of their farewell ritual. And before they cleared off, in front of all his friends, my son leaned down and gave me a hug as everyone behind him wished me pleasant dreams.
And then they were gone.
But they really weren't.
They will always be there.
And I couldn't be more proud.