D.A.D.: Not My Blood, But a Child of My Heart
This week's parenting column finds Mendham-Chester Patch editor Russ Crespolini reflecting on parent/child relationships where no biological bond exists.
Editor's Note: This column was written in the early morning hours of Saturday June 9.
My boy graduated high school tonight.
I watched this 17-year-old kid, who I remember holding when he was brought home from the hospital, who I took to see midnight movies and exposed to entirely too much junk food and inappropriate humor, take his diploma and scholarship from Pope John High School tonight in Sparta.
As someone who deals with words for a living, I honestly cannot express how it felt to watch this strong, proud man walk down the aisle about to start on the next part of his journey.
This once awkward child with thin skin who earned the nickname "Mad" because he pouted so much is now a confident track star who towers over me and is leaving at the end of this summer for the College of New Jersey.
I see so many of my mannerisms and reactions in him when we share a meal or talk about life's challenges I wonder if I haven't permanently warped him.
Did I mention he won a scholarship too?
The feeling of pride I felt as I watched him tonight was indescribable. I thought I was going to burst. And I suppose most father's feel that way about their sons.
However, in this case, the child in question is not biologically mine.
Let me backtrack about 18 years. Growing up in Flanders I had these incredible neighbors and close family friends. Brad and Janet were their names and they had a young son named Kevin. Brad was a police officer and one of the coolest guys I ever met. Even for a 17-year-old like me, Brad was just a great guy to be around. Kevin was four when little Jon appeared on the scene and Brad was working for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office as an investigator.
(I still remember Brad being on television as part of the arresting team after the Exxon executive was kidnapped from his driveway.)
And then, as life often does...it shows you how unfair it can be in the cruelest of ways. Brad died, leaving behind two boys and a wife and a doofus of a teenage neighbor who wanted to help (me).
I am blessed with a little sister in my life, but no brothers. So, I always felt the relationship I was forming with these boys was like that of an older brother.
Now, I also must say that my influence came in bursts when I was home from college and when I was around after work. Their mother, Janet, did all of the heavy lifting and she did it virtually alone. She is the hero in this story. The rides to practice, the activities, the family meals and vacations. But my meager contributions continued over the years.
Kevin's story took a turn best left to another column and I am hoping he finds his way through those issues. I know I will be waiting on the other side for him if he does.
Today is about Jon.
As I said before I had always assumed the feelings I developed for Jon were that of an older brother. And then my wife and I had my daughter, Natalie. And in that instant I realized that I loved Jon no less than I loved my little girl. There was nothing I would not do for him. No sacrifice I wouldn't make. No lengths I wouldn't go to protect him.
He was just every bit as much my child as she was. And that was something I was never going to change. And something I would never want to.
So as I sit here tonight, thinking about my boy, I think about the talks about women and the driving lessons (and his impending court date for a moving violation!) and the IMAX movies and late night video games and college strategy sessions. I think about hilarious youtube clips and inside jokes and watching him bridge our generational divide. I think about the remarkable man he has grown into.
Whatever I brought into his life, he has repaid tenfold. He is the kind of kid anyone would be privledged to call their own.
He is already a better man than I could ever hope to be. And when he goes to school in the fall, he is going to be studying criminal justice, to follow in his biological father's footsteps.
Judging by the lengths of his strides now he will soon surpass all father figures in his life.
Watching Brad with his children left a lasting impresson on the kind of father I someday hoped to be. I would never say that I in any way replaced Brad. That sort of thing just wouldn't be possible. He was an amazing father, who adored his children. But I would like to think that I did right by his boys. Or, our boys, as I have come to think of them.
So as I finish this column I want to ask you folks about a mentor, or an aunt or uncle or coach. A parental relationship that transcended bloodlines. It might even be a foster parent or an adoptive one. Maybe you had a godparent who helped make you who you are. Or maybe you are now reaching out to a child in your life who needs guidance.
I want to hear from those of you who ARE children of the heart and those who HAVE children of the heart in their lives.
I know my story isn't the only one out there, and I can't wait to read yours.
My son graduated high school tonight.
And I am as proud as any father has ever been.
Love you, Jon.