Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Matters

Eighteen years ago today my eldest son was born. Holy cow that went fast.  Older and wiser parents used to warn me of this and tell me to "enjoy" the younger years, which implies you can somehow slow time. I think the better term is savor. Every birthday is bittersweet in a way. Milestones come and go in a blur--first steps, themed birthday parties, herding bunches of kids a/k/a "coaching" soccer, teaching him to drive, his first speeding ticket, his second one..... fixing his speeding tickets.

I think being a teenager is much more complicated than when I was a kid. My son's generation grew up with hectic activity calenders, carefully planned by parents with corporate efficiency, leaving them less time to fart off and just be kids. Between the lure of video games and our fear of child predation, they played outside far less than we did. They've never known the world without the Internet, instant news cycles and an encyclopedia of information at your fingertips. He was eight years old on 9/11. He'll likely never know a world without the looming specter of terrorism. We've been a nation at war more than half of his life.

He's also facing daunting obstacles to the next "stages" of life that I didn't. My first semester tuition at the University of Kansas in 1980 was $256.00. Today. it's approaching $20k or more. College students are racking up enormous debt only to enter the worst job market in decades. Rather than feeling excited about their future, my son and his peers are just hoping they find a way to get by.

I know these things and he does too. But he plays things pretty close to the vest. He hates to talk about college or contemplate life much beyond the next week. He feels helpless and gets angry at times. As parents we found this a source of frustration until it dawned on me that he's scared shitless. It remains frustrating, but the more I think about it I can't really blame him.

During a bit of family drama a few weeks ago, I starting writing a song that began as a kind of parental rant. The first verse played off the line "you don't give a fuck about anything," and I felt guilty almost as soon as I wrote it down. But as the song took shape it started to change. I wasn't consciously trying to write about the stuff in this post, but it turns out I did. 

The song is called  What Matters.

You're always saying nothing matters
And the world don’t have place for you
You don't give a fuck about anything
Your luck is bad no matter what you do

You swear that you don't believe in anything
Like a future you can’t see
You start to doubt that you will ever find your way
And you think you've disappointed me

You’re scared that you will never know what matters
Or find out what it is you're supposed to do
But the answers will come in time
You'll find yours like I found mine
And what matters to me most of all is you

Like you I’ve been terrified of failing
I've made the same mistakes as you
I've been dead wrong more times more than I was right
And have I felt just as lonely too

But trust that time will teach what matters
What fights to pick and bluffs to call
And how far you go in life will depend the most on you
You can't climb high just thinkin’ about the fall


Happy birthday bud.  I love you.

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