Saturday, November 12, 2011

“Don’t Be Mad”

“Ok, so don’t be mad but I have news to tell you.” That was the text my son, Nathaniel, sent me at ten in the morning. He had been gone for four days with his girlfriend, Christina, to visit Tallahassee. His mother, a Gator fan, wasn’t thrilled with the location, but it was one less person in the house for a few days, which is always a treat.

It’s funny how as parents we react differently to each of our children as they grow up. If any of the other four would have sent that text I would have gone into instant panic. Someone was pregnant? Someone was busted? Someone was stranded? Someone was all three? I have great kids; they just enjoy life as much as I do and haven’t learned the tricks of surviving without the major missteps.

Then there’s Nathan.

If Nathan was part of Neil Simon’s Odd Couple, he’d be Felix. The others would all be Oscar. Nathan is neat, organized and predictable. He’s my stable one. Of course, Zac says that’s what also makes him the boring one, but I disagree. Nathan’s the one I don’t really worry about. He’s very active in his church; he’s a hard worker, and a studious kid. He budgets his money, which is a plus for me, enjoys fishing and reads Star Wars novels. Okay, he does sound boring, but trust me, he’s not.

So, when I received the text from him, I did not panic. I merely assumed McDonald’s had done away with their dollar menu and Nathan was calling to break the news to me.

“So, I proposed to Christina last night.”

My first thought was that my McDoubles were safe and then I gravitated to “You’re telling me this by text?” My son sometimes works in theater, the technical side, but I had hoped he had acquired some of the dramatic flair that went with working near a stage, especially with news such as this. Alas, poor York, it was not to be.

Important news should not come by text, email or voicemail. Char’s mother had done that when Char’s grandfather died. We returned home one night and checked our voicemail only to discover a message from her mother that simply said, “Just thought I’d let you know your grandfather died this morning.” It’s cold and heartless. News of that nature demands a personal touch. I’m not saying it has to be done in person, but at least have a conversation with the other person. Leave a message asking them to call you back and then break the news to them.

Of course, with Nathan as well as the other kids, I was at least happy I didn’t read about it on Facebook first, which is where most of their misadventures are discovered.

Then it dawned on me that he hadn’t finished the story.

“I assume she said, ‘Yes’.”

“Yes, sir. She did.” And that was it. I couldn’t take it, so I finally called for the details. This was important news and he was skimping on the good parts, the parts I knew the girls were going to want to know. It’s like when people have a baby. I know certain facts are required, so I make sure to ask. Sadly, however, newborn dads haven’t learned the importance of this yet, mainly because they haven’t been married long enough.

“Robbie, it’s a boy!”

“Congratulations! I’m happy for you. Now, how long was he? How much did he weigh? Did he have hair? What did you name him?”

“Babies have hair? Oh man, I didn’t look. I mean, he was kind of gunky, almost like that opossum we saw on the side of the road after bike week. He’s a boy, isn’t that enough?”

“You don’t know women.”

“Well, he was about as long as that trout I caught last weekend and he was heavier than my Chihuahua and lighter than our cat.”

Of course, the answers weren’t good enough and I was sent back. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with the first engagement among our children. I needed details.

“And why would I be mad?” Nathan has dated a couple of girls I found rather obnoxious – all of the kids have actually – but I liked Christina. She wasn’t snobbish and she didn’t isolate him from his family. Let’s face it, our family can scare some people, especially those who are used to being told what is normal and to hate everything else, but she seemed to get all of us. To me that’s a major plus, because the one thing I am big on is family. So, why would I be mad?

“Because I didn’t tell you I was going to propose.” I couldn’t blame him. Within our family we have a habit of talking freely and allowing things to slip. We don’t keep our own secrets even though we’re great at keeping others’. He wanted some privacy, and that I could respect. It wouldn’t have done well for Zac or me to tease him about it before he had a chance to actually do it. Surprises are hard to pull off in our family.

There is a difference between privacy and secrecy. Secrets hurt other people because they are about other people and they may cause damage and pain. Privacy is only about those involved. As a family we respect each other’s privacy – most of the time, anyway – but we don’t allow for secrecy unless there’s a giant gift under the Christmas tree.

Of course, he knew I wasn’t going to be mad at him getting married. As Bill Cosby said, “Our job is to get them out of the house,” and in seven months another bird will be flying the coop. That means I get my office back!

I hear what you’re thinking and I’m not mean or uncaring. I love my kids. But they’re not kids anymore; they’re men and women, adults. You only learn how to fly once out of the nest, not sitting on my couch watching Office reruns. Nathan is more than ready to fly and I already have my office furniture picked out. It’s a total win all the way around. People have often said, “You’re not losing a son; you’re gaining a daughter.” I’m gaining a room! At least, I am until Heather moves back from college.

And I’m gaining garage space.

Nathan has almost as many storage tubs in my garage as I do for my Christmas decorations, and those who know me know I don’t skimp on the December hoopla. To be fair, I have storage tubs for all the kids but Chad, and the only reason I don’t have any for him is because he lives in Virginia. I didn’t mind storing things while the kids were at college or experimenting with living on their own for a short period. However, marriage indicates a shift in status and all paraphernalia must move with the collector. The girls groan because they know this means more storage room for more holiday decorations. I think it’s quite a fair trade. After all, they’ll be taking over the now empty closet which means more shoes.

Of course, all of this available space comes at the cost of everyone entering a new phase of life. No longer will it be Nathan and his girlfriend; Nathan will now be introducing his wife. No longer will Char be wondering if they’re behaving behind closed doors. We’ll know they’re not, which makes my dad happy because he wants great-grandkids. We won’t be worrying about grades, but whether they are eating or not, because starting off is always tough.

Still, they are great kids with a lot of common sense. They’ll make it. And if they struggle, that’s actually a good thing, because marriages are strengthened during those tough times. Iron, after all, is forged in the fire.

Mad? No, Nathan, I’m not mad. I’m excited for you and Christina and everything that you’re about to experience. I’m proud of both of you, but I’m more proud of the man that you’ve become, and I’m excited about this new journey. You are both quite blessed and, therefore, so is our family.

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