Our first moment together: Sixteen years ago tonight (at 7:51 pm), I caught your slippery little 7.8-pound body with mine own hands, after several hours in totally uncharted territory. I was terrified. Shell-shocked from what goes down in these delivery rooms and what had just gone down in this delivery room. How have human beings done this sort of thing for tens of thousands of years? I was also elated. The enormity of the moment was not lost on me. “Maxwell, we are so happy to meet you,” I croaked, choking back the new father tears streaking down my new father cheeks. Your future moments — the coming night when I lay next to your bassinet confirming every new breath, and the coming years with everything else — spun through my mind. All completely unknowable, more or less. Cast the line out and see what happens.
I’m still casting.
How is it possible that you are now 16? I am terrified all over again. Not at the memory of changing, give or take, 6,000 soiled diapers. Rather, at the prospect of not remembering in detail every single moment since the day you were born. And the prospect of your many moments yet to come. Increasingly, your moments are just that — your moments. Not mine. The fishing rod is planted firmly in your palms. Not in mine.
This summer you spent weeks in the Alaskan backcountry wilderness. Stuffing and re-stuffing your wet and odiferous gear into your heavy backpack. Mixing up lumpy fried rice and biscuits by campfire cooking stove. Practicing drills to fjord streams and flummox grizzly bears. Rallying your fellow hikers during a frightening cold snap. Finding out more about who you are and who you might become. Even today, I could not pinpoint on a map where your legs carried you. These are your moments, not mine.
In less than a month, you’ll head off to boarding school. The once slippery 8-pounder now moving through your days in the general direction of adulthood. Out of my sight, out of my hearing, beyond my touch. A distance further than I am capable of casting, in fact. I’ve visited the campus, talked to the coaches, devoured the website and Instagram feeds. We’ll set up a regular FaceTime schedule, to be promptly ignored. You’ll likely text with curt requests for this unnecessary thing or that unnecessary thing. So most of those texted requests, too, will be promptly ignored. And your little brother may or may not set up shop in your newly-vacant bedroom at home (we have considerable work still to do with him and this whole fishing metaphor).
And strangely, I’m OK with all of this. You should be too. Your mom and I will, of course, always be here for you. Nothing could every change that. Nothing. And hopefully, we have helped shape you enough along the way such that you are pointed, more or less, in the right direction. We’ll keep shaping, too; we are nowhere near done on that front. But for the most part, we are reduced to supporting roles. Supporting roles in the moments that you experience. You cast. We watch. No one can know what the future holds. What lies just below the surface of White Pond’s still waters. Every throw of your line opens up new moments. Your moments. Just know that I’ve still got a small fishing net around here somewhere, just in case you need a little help hauling in.
Happy 16th Birthday, son.
And thanks for reading.