The Long Road Home

Once upon a time, there was ... 'A king!' my little readers will say right away. No, children, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood...

I asked him, my firstborn son, if he thought his mother and I would approve. Through downcast eyes filled with middle school hair he said No, Dad...I just thought you wouldn't find out.

Our arrangement has been I take him to school in the mornings and he rides the bus home in the afternoon. Simple, clean, safe. His mother, my wife, ran an errand one day this week and on the return home saw some boys walking along the road, one of them ours. Not a school bus in sight. The story, which we believe, was he missed the bus and saw these neighborhood boys walking and caught up with them. The further story, which we believe, was that it happened once before, not due to missing a bus, but at the invite of these boys.

Some of you might think good lord, John, what's the problem? But he's not yours, he's mine.

...but then we are in deepest error when we think our children are truly our own.
- Jim Harrison

In my mind's eye, my boy was walking alongside Fox and Cat, those two characters who led Pinocchio astray, telling him to plant his money in the Field of Miracles or something. The truth is my boy was walking alongside a couple of boys.

As we sat in his bedroom, I, also a firstborn who didn't tell my parents everything, said Will, I'd give my life for you, bud, no questions asked. Walking home like that puts you at risk. For a little while longer, I've got the responsibility to at least try and make sure you're safe. And then he started crying. I did too. Two firstborns who didn't and still won't tell our parents everything sitting there in our tears lost in the awkward dance steps of fathers and sons. I'm so sorry, Dad. I hugged my son and felt the broadness of his shoulders and his head tucked up under my neck. It was only yesterday his head barely reached my waist. Damn. Damn. Damn.

My firstborn son is on the long road home. So am I. So are we all.

Later that night, I remembered a time getting into a pickup with Lightbulb. Oh, that wasn't his name, but that's what we called him. I guess we just as easily could've called him Fox or Cat. I was probably my son's age, if not younger. Lightbulb took me on a stretch of highway between two sleepy little towns where boredom grew long like middle school hair. The speedometer reached 80, 85, 90...just a little more, Lightbulb...100 mph. We flew like bats in a black stepside Chevrolet. He held that speed the length of a Field of Miracles. My parents would not have approved. They never knew.

But now I know. The ache, the waiting until he hits that back door.

Skippin' out my door is the black sheep boy
And whichever way he runs he's gonna make a lot of noise
And I'm startled by the silence the minute that he's gone
And I pray for his protection and leave the porch light on
For my black sheep boy...

- Pierce Pettis, "Black Sheep Boy"


  1. Pierce brings back some great memories. He seems to always know what to say. Growing up is tough. Watchin' your young 'un is tougher.

  2. You truly are a great Dad. Tenderness and truth are so much more powerful than harshness.

    One day my middle child and I went to Walmart and saw a group of boys up to no good walking through the store. We had just watched the old version of Pinnochio before we had left home. My son, wide eyed, leaned over to me and said, "Are they going to turn into Donkeys?" I, squelching my laughter, said very seriously, "They just might..."

  3. pretty much sucks, John. Thanks for this.

    So I guess we're s'posed to hold them loosely, pray a lot, and trust that they'll make their way.

    Let me know when you do that. I don't have it down.

  4. I'm thinking of my own firstborn son growing so fast with middle school hair without actually being a middle schooler!!

    I am encouraged and moved by your tenderness...and I'm sure your firstborn was too!