I had a son once, named Alex. My wife and I were excited that a son was on his way and we could not help telling everyone. My wife’s mother even knitted a Christmas stocking, inscribed “Alex”, in preparation.
My sister was also happy for us, but she was also happy with her own child which was due shortly. And, six weeks before my son was due, I became a proud Uncle to my Nephew, who my sister named…..Alex.
Now I come from a family who never could order the same dish at a restaurant; even if you knew this would be your last meal and you desperately wanted NY Strip, if someone else at the table ordered NY Strip, you’d go for the Monkfish. So, of course, we had to do a quick change and my son, Alexander John, became John Alexander.
But there was the matter of the stocking. My mother-in-law offered to change the name, but we decided to leave it the way it is. So, from my son’s first Christmas to last year, he’d fish out his Christmas gifts from Alex’s stocking.
As you can see, John had an identity crisis from the get-go. And he is certainly not alone. Growing up for any kid is enough of an identity crisis itself; you are exposed to media versions of how people should dress, behave and believe, you’re American Idolized into thinking that success doesn’t come as much from within as from 10 million text messages and if that weren’t enough, you have to endure the horrible middle school years of trying to fit in to one of the popular/jock/nerd/goth/fill-in-the-blank-here cliques that divide most school cafeterias and school yards.
So, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when, four years ago, John’s new high school principal said that he wanted the incoming class, to be, above everything else, themselves. No artifice, no idealized image, no cliques.
But the principal was right. Over the past four years, my son has explored who he is, the gifts that he has and the person (or persons) he may choose to become. And, as my son took his journey, I followed with him, not in lock step (because I knew he had to take this journey by himself) but behind slightly, somewhat like a shadow that grows and deepens as the image itself grows in stature and confidence.
What I learned about my son was that high school certainly developed his mind but it also gave him the opportunity to discover that his true self came through his heart. As he become more self-aware, so to did he expand his generosity of spirit, his kindness, his blindness to personal differences. And has this grew, as his heart grew, more people were touched by him and when they were touched, their hearts grew as well.
I have to admit that as I’ve seen my son grow, my heart has been also touched and has been strengthened. The poet, William Wordsworth, writes that “The Child is the Father of the Man”, and while he describes another context, I can certainly say that my child has “fathered” me to see the world in different ways, myself in different ways, and the undeniable connection between the two.
So on this, my son’s graduation day, the gift I give to you the gift my son has given me – to challenge yourself to seek the good in others and that, by doing so, they will do the good that you seek. And, in the meantime, draw a picture of the images of yourself that you’ve created over the years and put it out there, like a Christmas stocking with someone else’s name on it, so you can see it clearly and be grateful for how far you’ve come.