Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stephen's Graduation Party Speech

Everything's Changing - Nothing Much Has Changed

Putting together a video compilation for Stephen's graduation party was a bitter sweet experience. It was fun to find so many old video tapes of Stephen as a baby, but sad to realize that 20 years has passed so fast.
Stephen was born without incident - the obstetrician’s first words were “I’ve delivered lots of babies, and let me tell you, that is one good-looking kid” – nothing much has changed much there.

Stephens’s first and favorite toys were balls - he had a set of crystal plastic balls with shiny spinners inside - slept with them in his crib. Went to sleep with his balls in his hands every night. – nothing much has changed there - still sleeps with his balls in his hands.

One summer at my parents house on Cape Cod, Stephen learned to hit a baseball - hit it over the roof of the house almost as soon as he learned to swing - certainly nothing much has changed there.

When he learned to ride a bike without training wheels, I was proud and excited - but as I watched him ride down the street, my stomach twisted in a knot - it was a selfish knot - I didn’t want him to grow up - I didn’t want him to not need me...but, I forced a smile, gave him a high five, and we moved on to the next pressing thing.

It seems looking back, that Stephen's entire childhood was condensed into 40 minutes of rushing to practice, hurrying to games, and popping McNuggets while tying skates in the back seat. I still have scars on my hands from pulling those laces, 'tighter, daddy, tighter’.

Then one day, he tied his own skates - and that ugly twisty-stomach feeling came back.

When Stephen's beloved coach, Steve Henley, died suddenly our parenting skills were put to the test. I thought my job as a Dad was to make pain go away - clean the booboo, put a band-aid on it, and kiss it all better. But there was nothing I could do or say to make this all better. I've never felt quite so inadequate as a father – all I could do is be with him as he struggled with his grief and mourned his loss. Those of you with kids know there is no pain worse than your kid’s pain - and there is nothing worse than not being able to make your kid’s pain go away.

Then one he drove himself to practice - and for a minute I was relieved because driving him everywhere was really a pain. Then as Pam and I were driving alone to his game that weekend, that twisty thing was back in my stomach.

But whether he needed us or not, we went. Pam never missed a game, and I went whenever I could. Although Stephen would never admit it, he always looked to see if we were there in the stands. Of course, he didn’t wave or anything - that wouldn’t be cool, but we knew he knew and that was enough.

Then one game when I wasn't there, tragedy struck. I was standing on the San Diego shoreline watching the most beautiful sunset when the call came. I will never forget Pam's voice, Stephen was hurt - badly hurt – might never play again. I dropped the cell phone, and balled my eyes out.

Stephen's stoic determination and courage in facing that injury still amazes me - he never complained, never pitied himself, never looked back - he marched on, and the results speak for themselves. He used the same strength in breaking into social and academic life at BB&N, and I know he will draw from it to succeed at Holy Cross and beyond.

People often come up to us - complete strangers sometimes - to tell us that we should be proud to have such great kids. We do have great kids - strong, smart, good-looking, sweet, kind, courageous, and tough. We are proud of them, yes, and we are privileged to have been the job of raising them - to have been allowed to be their mom and dad.

So now that Stephen is a grown man, we can look at the sum of our collective parenting of him, the hours, the talks, the money!, and the accounting shows a very, very positive return on investment.

As he is preparing to ride down that road towards his own life, his own freedom, and his own future - I have to tell you, that very selfish, very twisty feeling is back with a vengeance.

I am proud, bursting with pride, excited at his accomplishments, and I very much do and do not want him to go...

Stephen, son, I love you very much – and nothing much will ever change there.