A few weekends ago, I had lunch with a dear friend of mine. Kathy’s son, Andy, was in my first-grade class many moons ago and she and I recently reconnected over the winter. While it’s always great fun to visit with people from my past, it’s uncommonly hilarious to spend an hour…or two…or three with Kathy whose wit and sass had me laughing so hard, my ribs ached. She and my sweetheart haven’t met yet, but ran a humorous dialog through my text box that makes me look forward to when I can introduce them at our next lunch date, then enjoy what follows, making sure I don’t snort coffee through my nose.
After we ate, Andy stopped by and I hugged him, asking, “How old are you now?”
“Twenty-eight,” he smiled.
“That’s the age I was when you were in my class,” I laughed. “I can’t believe it!”
How sweet it was to catch up on his life, to hear about his wedding last spring, to see what an incredible man he has become. Not that I’m surprised at all, for I spent a lot of time with Kathy and her family while the kids were growing up. We swam together, watched movies on Friday nights, and hung out in the backyard on summer nights, roasting marshmallows and catching fireflies. When Andy was senior in high school, I joyfully went to his graduation. When his sister, Steph, was changing majors in college, I eagerly listened to her hopes and dreams. Since we’ve all gotten back in touch this year, it seems as if no time has passed at all as we tell stories to catch up, then tell stories about how it used to be.
At one point in the conversation, Kathy nodded to Andy. “I remember the Thanksgiving Feast and you had a speaking part. You were so nervous! And then you had to do that pilgrim dance and your hat fell off.” She looked at me. “And he ran right into your arms. That’s how I knew you were like a second mother to him.”
“I remember that,” I smiled.
Then I thought, I cannot believe that was twenty-two years ago. Where has time gone?
Forward…just like it always does.
Yet for the past month or so, I’ve enjoyed going back in time when I was just a toddler and the world was a much different place. In watching The Wonder Years (1988-1993), a television program that chronicles the late adolescence of Kevin Arnold, I’ve revisited the Vietnam War, Watergate, paisley shirts and bell bottoms, Woodstock and Mama Cass. With the tumultuous transition from the sixties to the seventies as a backdrop, Kevin goes through his rites of passage into adulthood in much the same way many of us did -- fighting with a sibling, struggling in difficult classes at school, and the awkward experience of falling in love for the first time.
It’s been fun to watch episodes with my sweetheart and recognize his childhood in Kevin’s. Even more poignant to point out scenes that remind me of times in my life that were often hilarious and sometimes less-than-stellar. In the end, The Wonder Years has given me permission to wax nostalgic about moments that we can never revisit. Not that I’d want to anyway.
Recently I’ve been talking with friends about the way things used to be and have come to realize that perhaps my generation was the last one to have a real childhood. I could go outside and play for hours without my mother needing to know my every move. Sure, there were boundaries around where my sisters and I were allowed to play, but for the most part, we had the run of the neighborhood as long as we returned home in the evening when the church bells rang at five o’clock. We watched The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, and The Bionic Woman without constantly being bombarded by advertisements and ideology. We talked on a push-button phone that was anchored to the wall, not attached to our hip every second of the day. Sure we had to deal with bullies, peer pressure, and addiction, but not like kids do today in a world of what my sweetheart calls Spacebook (which includes all social media and the Internet).
It’s a bittersweet thing to tell it like it was, for I know that Satish and Danta will never have a life like the one I left behind long before they were born. They won’t know what it was like before virtual reality was king and now live in a culture where alternative facts are played like pawns on a chessboard. Then again, they won’t know a life that limited our connection with each other to snail mail and expensive, long-distance phone calls. And they’ll grow up in a world where global awareness is only a mouse-click away.
I guess what Kevin Arnold says in a voice-over during an episode called “The Sixth Man” is undeniably truth: Maybe change is never easy. You fight to hold on. You fight to let go.
I can never relive the years when shag haircuts and bell bottom jeans and Star Wars reigned supreme. I can't go back to an era when Glen Frey and Prince and David Bowie were at their prime. But I'm thankful that with every year that goes by, I'm that much father from an adolescence when I was often overwhelmed and frequently scared out of my mind.
Since my significant other and I got together last year, we’ve been telling stories from our collective past. Some are funny and endearing. Some are painful and heartbreaking. Some help him understand who I am that much more, and I imagine others might invite questions that have yet to be answered. Because I trust him completely, I’ve revealed things that no one else knows, parts of me that I don’t want to show anyone else. What I’ve come to realize is that while I embrace change readily, I’m still hesitant to let go of things that used to serve me well, but now seem a bit rusty. I can’t simultaneously be completely independent and create a healthy relationship. I can’t walk through the world consumed with my own thoughts and opinions and not consider his as well. I can’t wake up every morning focused on what I want and not add him into the equation.
Yet because I can’t imagine life without him in it, it’s easier to soften around the edges of my independence. To carve out space and time when we can be together. To open my heart even more to experience of loving him. To know that while the wonder years of our childhood may be long gone, the magic of being in this life together has only just begun.