My eldest son is nineteen years old as of today. I think it may be his first birthday away from our home and family. I'd be missing him all the more if not for the fact that we got to enjoy a great visit from him (and his dear Rebekah) this past week, and if I weren't going to be seeing him again this coming week down in Texas. Still, he's been in my heart and on my mind even more than usual throughout this day, the 18th of January, as I have treasured memories of his life and swelled with pride in the very fine young man that he has grown up to be.
This past year has been an eventful one for my Zachary. Not only did he become a legal adult a year ago on his "golden birthday" (when he turned 18 on the 18th), but he graduated from high school, worked a full-time summer job away from home (in Nebraska), got his driver's license, went away to college on a full-ride scholarship (as a National Merit Finalist), and then, barely into 2008, became engaged to get married. This takes my breath away as I stop and think about it, though I could hardly be more pleased and proud than I am. Honestly, I stand in awe and admiration of the person my son has become, and I thank God for him every day.
The story is already famous within our family and circle of friends, how Zachary ended up being born at home. Good stories are always worth repeating, however. We were living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and of course January happens to be in the dead of winter. January 1989 was suitably snowy and cold, which added to the drama of that auspicious day when Zachary arrived. My wife remembers some of the details a bit differently than I do; which is no surprise, I guess. It is true that we were out shopping for CDs as she was beginning to have contractions; it also happens to be the case that the music store we were perusing was the Electric Fetus. My imagination is not good enough to make up something like that little bit of irony!
I'm sorry to say that I wasn't terribly astute at that point in my life. Consequently, we did not go directly from the Elecric Fetus to the hospital (which wasn't terribly far away), but rather headed home to the suburbs by way of a little video rental place, where my father-in-law and I eventually picked out the movie Willow. My dear wife, LaRena, I have since come to learn, was growing more restless by the minute as she waited out in the car with little baby DoRena (just shy of two). Whether she breathed a sigh of relief or uttered a groan of exasperation when we finally headed home with movie in hand, I'm not sure I should try to guess. In any event, we settled down to watch Willow, while LaRena did her best to be patient as her labor progressed.
Yes, in retrospect I know that I should have taken her to the hospital instead of renting a movie and beginning to watch it. Silly me. In my defense, the doctor had said that we should head for the hospital when the contractions got to be ten minutes apart. As I remember things, I was keeping careful track of the timing, and when the contractions were spaced ten minutes apart, I wasted no time in getting ready to go. I didn't even mind that we were smack dab in the middle of the movie (it was some time later before we ever got to see the latter half of Willow).
I went out to start the car, and came back into our apartment expecting to bring LaRena out and be on our way. What I discovered, instead, was that our baby was on the verge of being born. It was at this point that we learned how quickly LaRena tends to deliver babies. I guess it was her Dad who hollered that I should forget the car and call 911, because the baby was coming. Oh. I was on the phone, then, when Zachary was born in the bathroom. His Grandpa delivered him right there, and thankfully he knew what to do with an umbilical cord wrapped around a baby's neck (thank God for rural Nebraska farm life!). So, ironically, the only one of my children I haven't gotten to see being born was the one who was born at home. Such is life.
The past nineteen years since then have been something of a blur, at least in retrospect, as I try to think back on everything that has happened. So much of that time was spent, in my case, at the seminary and then at Notre Dame, and I regret that I wasn't as attentive as I ought to have been to my little boy as he was growing up. I prize the times and activities we did share, and I look back on those days fondly. Still, nothing in the past exceeds my joy in Zachary's present. I am so grateful that I have gotten to be more involved in his life for these past few years than I had been earlier.
It means the world to me that Zachary honors his mother and me and seeks out our counsel and advice. He listens carefully and respectfully, and on those rare occasions when he makes a different choice than we might recommend, he does so thoughtfully and conscientiously. That really sums up his attitude and approach to life in general. He takes after me in being very serious; which is, I suppose, both a bane and a blessing. Thankfully, he's not as high-strung as I tend to be. In fact, in contrast to his physical stature and strength, I am especially struck by his gentleness, his calm demeanor, his quiet manner of going about things. Having him around the house last week, and watching him interact with his younger siblings, was an awesome joy. It has amazed me and warmed my heart to observe how closely Zach is connected to his family, and how very genuine and natural his love and affection for his parents and brothers and sisters are. He's going to make an outstanding father for his own children, as God so grants to him, of that I have no doubts. I suspect that is one of the things that Rebekah sees and admires in him.
Whether or not Zachary goes on to the seminary after college, as he has seriously contemplated and tentatively planned, I know that he will be a blessing to the Church and to his neighbors in the world. He has outstanding gifts of body, mind and spirit, which will serve him well in whatever vocations and stations in life he may be given. For the time being, I'm quite pleased for him to be exploring possibilities and keeping his options open, even as I am also pleased with those exciting plans of his which are now quickly falling into place with his beautiful bride-to-be. The next seven months are going to fly by, I realize, at a pace as fast or even faster than the past nineteen years have come and gone. "Don't blink," says Kenny Chesney, and he's got that right. I'm going to savor every moment I am given, as best I can, and give thanks for the chance to do so.
Hats off to you, Zachary! I'm proud of you, and proud to be your Dad.