I got old last weekend. I’m not complaining about it, and I hope it happens to all of you sometime.
On Saturday, I attended my son’s graduation ceremony from college, the culmination of his education up to this point in his life. I used to think that learning ended once one had walked down the aisle to get that bachelor’s degree, but I don’t think that way anymore. After a lot of contemplation this week, I have come to the conclusion that life is one big classroom.
I’ve been watching him learn things for 22 years now. I was there when he learned how to say his first words. I was there when he took those first few wobbly steps. I watched him learn how to read. He’s come a long way since then.
I was there when he come home with his first black eye when he was 5 years old. He had been out in the yard playing baseball when his head got in the way of an inside pitch. I explained to his mother that black eyes were a common affliction of active little boys, and that it was no big deal. However, she was still very upset with the scoundrel who would do something to mar her precious little son’s cherubic face. I said, “Hey! Get off my back! He was hogging the plate! When I’m pitching, I own the inside corner, and if he stands too close, he can expect some high and tight heat coming at him!!” He learned to watch out for himself that day, something that would help immensely in the years to come. As an aside, I’d like to be able to honestly say that was the only small child I’ve ever plunked with a brushback pitch, but unfortunately, I also have a daughter.
We used to watch professional wrestling together when he was a little kid. I taught him that the wrestlers weren’t really hurting each other, and that you shouldn’t believe everything that you see on television. He told me not to worry, that he knew it was all fake, but that didn’t diminish our enjoyment from following our favorite wrestlers.
At the time, one of the guys we watched, went, and still goes by the name of Stone Cold Steve Austin. One of his favorite things to do was to flip the middle-finger salute to anybody and everybody. Opponents, referees, announcers, the crowd ... no one was immune from getting the Steve Austin bird in their face. As I vaguely recall, I’m pretty sure that I might have casually mentioned in passing to my impressionable 6-year-old son, that middle fingers are naughty and should never ever be used unless, of course, someone honks at you during an ill-advised, and possibly illegal left-hand turn.
And then the note came home from his kindergarten teacher. As legend has it, evidently, my wife’s little angel copied his favorite wrestler as his class came in from recess one day. As they entered the school that fateful afternoon, he turned to greet his colleagues and proceeded to let his little middle-fingers extend toward the heavens, like tiny birds, flying high and proud. Not knowing what the gesture meant, he flipped off all of his classmates to their delight and to the absolute horror of his teacher.
We all learned something that day. My son learned that obscene gestures should be kept to a minimum. I learned that my wife controls the television remote in our house, and I learned that my son’s school wasn’t as big of a proponent of free speech as I had hoped.
Through the years, we’ve seen him learn how to play a tuba, microwave pizza rolls to perfection, juggle various objects, drive a car, and throw a nasty knuckle ball along with a plethora of other activities. His latest thing has been learning how to play the guitar. He’s self-taught, and he’s getting really good.
As his life has progressed, his mother and I have gotten to witness him learn all sorts of things. Last Saturday, we witnessed him receiving his diploma in parks and recreational management from Illinois State University. Twenty-three hours after that, we witnessed him hopping into his loaded-down Ford Taurus to begin a nearly 900-mile trip to Estes Park, Colo., to serve a summer internship. After a sleepless night for his father, I got a text message that he had made it there safe and sound.
So far this week, he has been attending classes and receiving training for what his summer job will entail. He told me he’ll be doing things like instructing archery, rock climbing and that he’ll have a class on how to identify different animal poop. Yep, that’s right, he’s learning more stuff.
Now he’ll be learning things on his own, and I won’t get to be there so much. That kind of stinks. I’m going to miss teaching my son things. But I still have that 9-year-old daughter at home who needs me. Whoa! Look at the time! I need to wrap this column up. I think that wrestling’s coming on.
You can contact Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on his blog at http://gregwallaceink.blogspot.com.