Although it was many years ago, it seems just like yesterday. In a cold hospital room, I held in my nervous hands for the first time what would turn out to be my only child.
He would have neither brothers or sisters to spend time with, learn from, or call for help in times of need. For 23 years, his story has been the same. He has been alone.
Today, at 10 o’clock in a brightly lit commission chambers, that all changes. The Boy will finally have brothers and sisters he can call family.
His blue eyes, filled with wonder and questions about the world he had just entered, looked up at me that day. He was depending on me to teach him all the things a father should — all the things my father had taught me.
Although his eyes have now turned hazel, I would like to think he still looks up to me, but there is something he has never known about that day. At the time, his father had no insurance, no job, and very few answers. How could he possibly be a good father to someone so small?
A backwards glance with the eyes of a now 52-year-old, I’ll admit it: I was totally ill-equipped to be a father. Somehow, still, I stumbled through.
At 2, he sat on my shoulders watching the parade go by, laughing the entire time, wanting to know where clowns came from. I told him they came from clown schools.
At 5, he asked where clouds come from. Before I could formulate a response he could understand, a dozen more were asked. It took all afternoon, but I answered everything he wanted to know about clouds.
At 10, he asked how to defend himself from the bully down the street. I taught him how to avoid a fight. I also taught him self-defense just in case he couldn’t.
In middle school he asked about girls. I told him that was one question I didn’t have an answer for. I had been trying to figure them out all my life
Throughout the years, I’ve done the best I could not to let any of his questions go unanswered. I didn’t get a manual on how to be a good father when he was born. Maybe that was included in the hospital package if you had insurance. It took until his first birthday, but I finally finished paying the bill.
Some of you may ask why, in my stories, I refer to my son as The Boy. Now that’s a question for which I do have an answer. It’s quite simple really. Long ago, he didn’t like me referring to him as The Girl.
Today, at 10 o’clock in a brightly lit commission chambers, The Boy will be sworn in along with four other recruits.
Congratulations, son, on graduating and becoming a firefighter. Welcome to your new 140-member family. I always have been, and always will be, there for you — as a good father should. And maybe that’s the answer I searched for when I first held you in my hands.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]