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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CJ's Birthday


Today is our son CJ’s thirty-second birthday. I don’t feel old enough to have a son that age, but the wrinkled face in the mirror assures me it’s true. Mrs. C. and I were twenty-eight and had already been married six years when we had our one and only child. Since we’ve known each other since high school it isn’t inconceivable that we could have a son in his forties. I shiver at the thought.


Two reflections tango in my mind today as I think about my son. Surprisingly, the first involves one of the worst days of my life. CJ was two years old and I was out of work during a terrible recession that struck the Northwest in the early eighties. Mrs. C. had a job and was carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for supporting our family. I struggled to find work but my art background made me about as hireable as a shepherd. I decided to take little CJ to the park to feed the ducks and distract me from fretting that I’d never land another job.


At the park it started to rain. I’d failed to consider the weather and hadn’t grabbed CJ’s umbrella or raincoat. Adding to my failure as a provider, I now felt like a failure as a parent. When the shower hardened into heavy rain we took shelter under a tree that did little to keep us dry. I noticed an empty waste can nearby with a clean plastic liner. I pulled it out, tore three holes in it and slipped it over the head of my two-year old. He thought the makeshift raincoat the greatest thing he’d ever seen. He ran about in the rain, spinning like a whirling dervish until he fell down, repeating the process over and over. I remember the happiness on his little face as he dashed about in that garbage sack. I was glad the rain camouflaged my tears. Shortly after this incident I was hired by a local jewelry store where, it turned out, I had a gift for selling jewelry.


Years later another incident cemented itself into my mind. After years of selling jewelry and working my way into a management position, I quit retail to pursue my love of art. I began my career as a freelance illustrator. I’d located my business in a vintage building in downtown Portland, and one winter’s day the weather was unusually brutal. Light snow had been predicted but instead we experienced a rare blizzard.


MAX, Portland’s light rail, was a mile from our house in the suburbs and I usually walked to the station and took the train into town, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk a mile in blinding snow. I called Mrs. C., who’d left work early and was already home. I told her I was leaving and would be home as soon as I could. She informed me that CJ, in his early twenties at the time, would pick me up at the MAX station.


Due to the snow, MAX shut down just as I reached my stop. The only people I saw were bus drivers chaining up their vehicles. I shivered and wondered where CJ was, if he’d even be able to come at all. Then his familiar CJ-7 Jeep rumbled into the parking lot and lurched up to me.


The door opened and my son stepped out. I hadn’t realized until then how much he loomed over me.


“Need a lift?” he asked, grinning.


I don’t know how long I could have stood there without freezing, but all I remember was a flood of warmth that filled me as I looked at the young man who’d somehow replaced my little boy, tall and confident, a rescuer—a man. I felt like I could bust with pride.


We all come to life’s banquet with our own unique gifts, gifts we’re born with, but I couldn’t resist basking in the satisfaction that his mother and I had done our job and done it well. For the first time I felt old, but for reasons I couldn’t possible articulate I wasn’t upset, even though I’d avoided this realization for some time. I slid into the passenger’s seat. CJ revved the engine, shifted gears and drove us home. Along the way I saw my Dad in his face and in his gestures. I suspected the grandfather who died before I was born was there also.


It was one of the happiest days of my life, a day when I was given a rare gift—a glimpse at immortality.


Happy Birthday, Son.

Love,

Dad

39 comments:

  1. Happy birthday to CJ,and well done to CJ´s parents.

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  2. So I guess you're a Jeep fan? Is that why you named your son after one? ;)

    Another great story, Stephen. The progression of life is amazing , isn't it?

    Happy birthday CJ!

    S

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  3. how precious this was for me to read...Maybe it was the Jeep thing (used to own one just like it)but a flood of memories about my own son who has been gone for 20 years just brought tears. Sons are the best, and I wish yours a very happy birthday! And yes, old Man, it is odd to have a daughter who just turned 41...think how my Mom feels at 87 who will have a daughter turning 65 in August:) My bro just turned 69. YIKES!!!! PS...I should write about the time I decided to go four-wheeling...in the snow...BY MYSELF!...Duh!

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  4. Nice stories. I hope you gave little CJ a nice hot bath when he got home from the park.

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  5. CJ in a CJ...Love me some Jeeps!!

    Bravo!!

    Another great story, pass the tissues.
    cranky

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  6. Great article. You are not alone. This almost reminds me of my story in the 80's. Never give up.

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  7. Such a lovely birthday card!

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  8. What a nice tribute to your son. My youngest turned 39 last week, and the older son will turn 41 in January. Age is definitely creep up! I was 28 when my first was born, too.

    By the way, If CJ still drives a Jeep, my son has an online business selling discounted parts and accessories for Jeeps and other 4-wheel drive vehicless at 4x4groupbuy.com if he ever needs tires or anything else for his vehicle. (Mom putting in a plug for the guy who'll probably have to pay for my nursing home someday!)

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  9. So superbly and movingly written! I add my good wishes for a wonderful birthday to CJ, and a hearty congratulations to his mom and dad.

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  10. Part of me wants to cry now. This was touchingly written. Wonderful.

    Happy birthday to your boy,

    Pearl

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  11. What a nice post. A happy birthday to him, too. I'd suggest he's lucky to have a dad like you !

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  12. A delightful post. My son will be 42 in August. I'm not feeling old about that one bit. Rite of passage.

    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday Dear CJ,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you.♪♪

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  13. What a lovely happy post, Stephen! Your love for your son, brought a tear to my eye.. I, too have a son who will be 32 in September! I also have another who just turned 41 -- and still another who is 29 -- who'd have thunk it all those years ago that they'd grow up and be spread all over the world.

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  14. Thanks for this, Steve. Son Peter will be fifty next month. I not only feel old, I am old. With memories. Amazing how satisfying they can be

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  15. You brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. A lovely birthday tribute to your boy. Loved the whirling dervish reference. ;) Happy Birthday to your son.

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  16. I finally did the math and realized your son is as old as my oldest younger sister.

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  17. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your son, CJ. The story you just shared up there has certainly made me feel how good it is to have a guardian around you. ANd when we finally grow up, its our responsibility to help them retire from that position and be their guardian 'angels' instead :')

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  18. What a nice post! Happy birthday CJ!

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  19. Wishing CJ many happy returns of the day!

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  20. Funny how certain snippets in time just burn themselves into our memory. I hadn't seen my oldest son in a while and when I visited him recently, I kept seeing my brother in him.

    Happy birthday to CJ!

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  21. Happy Birthday, CJ. Favorite Young Man is 32, but when I look in the mirror, the face is not wrinkled. That's cuz my kids are so sweet they didn't give me wrinkles or grey hair. I have to earn my own.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I looked at my comment again and realized it looked as if I think my kids are better than everyone's else's because they didn't give me wrinkles and grey hair. And that's exactly what I intended. Job well done, Janie.

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  22. Awwww, very sweet and loving birthday wish for your son. Let me add mine to the mix! Happy Birthday CJ! Your Dad is a cool cat.

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  23. Well said! A great tribute to your son and also his parents.
    I hope he had a great day for his birthday.

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  24. It's bittersweet when they grow up, isn't it? Mine are 26 and 29, but I see them as about 13 and 15. Btw, luv your pics of Cappadocia -- even the dirty ones.

    Happy birthday to your son!

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  25. Sweet. And I'll bet that you laughed the first time somebody told you, "They don't stay little long." How true. Happy Birthday, CJ.

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  26. late to the game in replying but I must say that this is a most lovely tribute to children and parenting. We would like to take credit, but it is their own sense of right and wrong and strong character that they get from all who have gone before. Good read.

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  27. And, when all is said and done, that is what makes a man or woman successful: the legacy of making the world a better place through the gift of children.
    Congratulations and happy birthday to your boy.
    BTW, my son towers over me. Not that I'd want to, but I could look up into his nose.

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  28. What a wonderful tribute to your son. It is quite clear from your writing that you are a wonderful father.
    Isn't it funny how events that we feel are shortcomings turn out to be wonderful experiences for a child, as with the make shift raincoat for your son. Often times when we are in a bad place ourselves everything seems to not measure up.
    It is amazing too how totally out of the blue we see our children as adults. While we know the age of our child, we seldom see them as anything but a child. Then one day they do or say the simplest thing and we see an adult. And in that moment, we are proud!
    My daughter, soon to be 18, is just spreading her wings and making her way out of the nest. (A change I am struggling with). But, lately I have heard her say things that have just floored me. Where has that maturity come from, when was that adult wisdom bestowed upon her? Where has my little girl gone?
    Wow, your post has made me a wee bit sentimental and helped me remember so many memories with my own children. Thank You and Happy Birthday to your son!

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  29. Hilary said if I (and I quote) "you want a consistently good and very often amusing read" I should check you out .. I have and she's right .. nice to meet you! And happy birthday to CJ!

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  30. Call me a sentimental old fool, but that made me cry. Superb writing, Stephen.

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  31. This memory-filled tribute brought a tear to my eye. My son is 37 and wasn't expected to live. He surprised them all. He's on his fourth pacemaker and his heart has been patched and re-patched--giving him more borrowed time. They quit guessing how long he might live years ago. I spent all those years watching out for him, taking care of him when he was sick, in hospitals & clinics, never looking ahead, grateful for the present at all times. When I hurt my arm at a factory job back in 1993 my, then grown, son was helping carry in groceries--and I flashed to when he was about ten and when we went grocery shopping his job was to carry in one gallon of milk...and he'd be so exhausted he'd fall asleep on the couch afterwards. And now he was carrying in the groceries...and I had a gallon of milk in my good hand. You never know in life. You just never know. ;)

    Happy birthday to your dear, dear son. :)

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    1. Awwww. Why can't I be nice like Rita? What's wrong with me? Maybe it's the way my sweet kids raised me. I'm rebelling against all that sugar.

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  32. This puts me on the verge of tearfulness too. Thanks for such a warmhearted post.

    xoRobyn

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  33. Great post, CC, and a very happy birthday to CJ!

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  34. An exceptional post, Steve!

    Happy Birthday to CJ!

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  35. There is nothing more precious than seeing children grown up and come into their own. You've apparently done a wonderful job, Stephen!

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  36. happy birthday to your son! I enjoyed reading this today!

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  37. Happy birthday to your son and beautiful post! I love the idea that we "all bring our unique gifts to life's banquet". Sounds like you and your wife passed some wonderful things along too :)

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