Fifteen

My son, my oldest child, my first born, turns 15 tomorrow.

It hardly seems possible, that it was 15 years ago tomorrow that I found myself driving my wife down a relatively deserted U.S. highway through the middle of North Dakota to get from our home to the hospital which was about 80 miles away. I was driving insanely fast, though probably not insanely fast for the circumstances: it was the Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend; this was middle-of-nowhere North Dakota; and I was confident that I had two things on my side–that I knew or had met the sheriffs and at least some of the deputies in most of the counties between Garrison and Bismarck, and that I had a woman who was in labor in the passenger seat.

I’ve been remembering that day, in those flashes of images, words, smells, feelings and sounds that you get when you recall events from long ago that hold great importance. I remember Jenni coming out of the shower, telling me that she thought her water broke. I remember grabbing her suitcase and throwing it into the car. I remember most of the drive: timing the contractions, which started out the trip at 5 minutes, and ended the hour-long drive at 5 minutes. I remember thinking that driving at 90 miles-per-hour was probably too fast, but 80 to 85 seemed like a good compromise.

I remember pulling into the entrance area at St. Alexius in Bismarck, getting Jenni checked in and into the wheelchair and watching the nurse wheel her off to maternity, then heading back to the car to park it. But then realizing that I didn’t really remember where the hell maternity was. So when I got back in, I asked the nurse at the welcome desk.

I don’t remember telling Julie and John, who were visiting us for the weekend, how to get to the hospital beyond just driving down 83 to Bismarck and continuing on the road that 83 becomes in town…But now that I think about it, that really was about all that you needed to do.

It was 1996, Jenni and I were working for a newspaper company in a small town in North Dakota, I had a mullet, we had three cats, and a house that we rented for $150 a month. 15 years later, the house is gone, having been torn down a couple of years ago, apparently, we’re down to one cat, and the mullet was also not long for the world.

But on that day, we were to become parents. And for the next 15 years, I’d be amazed, flustered, annoyed, proud, irritated, and overjoyed by Patrick. Every day seems to bring a new phase, somehow. And even now, I’m intrigued by the completely unique individual he’s becoming. He’s in high school, and with it, he’s bring back all kinds of memories of that phase of life, and I get to see it in a whole different way. That seems to be part of parenting: the opportunity to finally approach an understanding of your own childhood through your kids.

So, because he’s growing up, on his birthday, Patrick will go to his “job” as he calls it, even though it’s just volunteering at the library, then to see friends at another library. It’s his usual Thursday routine, and I think he’s relishing the freedom that Thursdays provide him. I remember that feeling at that age, when you could go anywhere you wanted to as long as a bus or a bike could get you there. Just check in with the parents…I had my emergency change for a pay phone, Patrick has his cell phone. The requirements don’t change, just the cost and the technology.

Fair warning, to those who might want to call him and wish him a happy birthday tomorrow: after his library trips, we’re heading over to the girls’ new school for their open house. So try calling some time after 8:00 or 8:30…You can even call him on his own phone. Let me know if you want his phone number.

I know he doesn’t read this, but I’m still going to say this straight to him: Patrick, I know I probably don’t say it enough, or show it enough, but you’re a remarkable, wonderful young man who I have been very proud to tell people about for 15 years now. Keep learning, growing and reaching for that next new phase in your life. Happy Birthday.

See you tomorrow.