Publication Date 4-20-17
It’s our son’s fortieth birthday this week.
Forty years doesn’t seem that long.
I’m a fortunate man, and the most important component of that good fortune is knowing that all my children are good people. I realize it’s usually a mistake to brag, but I can’t help myself. They’re smart, funny, and trustworthy. They all have jobs that matter; jobs that are challenging, but each in their own way make this world a better place.
None of them make enough money to support me in my old age, at least not in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed, but that’s a common tradeoff. When one of my sisters had a daughter reach the age to start career planning, they sat down together and wrote two lists. One was titled “Jobs Worth Doing” and the other was “Jobs Where You Make A Lot Of Money.” The daughter was stunned at how little overlap there was between the two lists.
As I write this, it’s early on Easter Sunday. I’m pausing between paragraphs to stare out the north window of my office at a perfect morning.
Across the driveway is a perch for a birdhouse that my father made for us. It was built to hold a birdhouse that Wally Rosenlund’s widow gave us. After twenty years or so, the birdhouse disintegrated, so we turned it into a flagpole.
The colors of the American flag burst in the landscape, waving in the stiff morning breeze. A gaggle of cats are roaming around being useless and a couple minutes ago a rabbit hopped over to the garden, checking to see if the radishes are up yet. The day, the view, and the topic have me feeling more emotion than a Norwegian farmer really should possess.
There’s a lot I’ve forgotten over the past forty years, but I do remember when our first child was born. We live in a small place and when my wife’s pregnancy reached a certain point, some concerns were raised that caused us to leave our local hospital to end up in a giant facility in the Twin Cities. We were so young – married when we were twenty, twenty-two when our son was born. Two hundred miles is a long drive when you’re as worried as we were. Little did we know that was just the first of many other long drives. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Worry and sorrow are not evenly divided in the world, but almost everyone is handed at least a small portion. Luckily, most of those long drives we’ve made with each other.
But then everything turned out swell. Our son was born without much more drama than any other child that enters the world. He had jowls and a thick shock of red hair. I spent hours staring through the nursery window. At least ten other babies kept ours company, and I enjoyed it a great deal when people would stop and peer through the window. Everyone would glance at the rows of babies and then say, “Wow, look at the redhead,” and I’d say, “That’s my son.”
The world turns. A few years ago we sat in the waiting room of another large hospital, as our daughter-in-law was in labor. There were some fraught moments, but she and the baby turned out just fine. To say I was very relieved is an understatement. I’d been worried about everyone involved, including my son, because he’s always been intense, taking his responsibilities very seriously. I knew he’d take any issues with his wife and baby as a personal failing of his own. I don’t know how old you need to be before you learn that some things in this world just happen, that no matter how hard you try, you have far less control than you imagine.
Late that evening, our daughter-in-law was resting, uncomfortably I’m sure, and our son was talking to an EMT he’d met that day. Using that mysterious intuition former Marines seem to possess, they’d discovered that not only had they both served in the Corps, they had been in many of the same places.
On our way out of the hospital, that’s the last thing I remember seeing. The two men, sitting in the darkened nursery, chatting quietly about shared experiences, and watching over the baby. It was a sweet and vivid image – two men doing exactly what men are supposed to do.
I admit I’m pretty old, and I’ve forgotten many things.
Some things I remember.