Right now, my son is outside, forging a flagstone walkway from our driveway to our front stoop. It’s 8:45 on a Tuesday morning in late April. He is a ski instructor, but the resort where he works has just closed for the season, and he is transitioning to his job at an Italian restaurant four miles away. He is a smart, funny, good-natured young man, and he hasn’t asked me for money in a long time.
As for my daughter, she is sleeping in this morning at her apartment a few miles from my house with three other girls, all juniors at the university where I teach. She took a final exam yesterday in her Latin class, which for the entire semester I was convinced she would fail, but afterwards her teacher told her she had earned a B for the course. Since Latin was her worst class, what this means is she will probably earn a B or better in all her classes. Hell, she might even make the Dean’s List. But more important to me, she is much happier than she was last semester, when she went through a very difficult time. She has weathered one of those storms that life tends to bring us once in a while. She is a delightful young woman who makes my day brighter every time I see her.
Soon I will wake her up with a phone call, then go outside, tell Stephen to take a break, and take them both out to breakfast.
I wrote the above paragraphs with a feeling that I may best describe as a mixture of pride, satisfaction, and giddiness. To say that it’s been a long road to this point would be an understatement. Because I left their mother when they were young, at a time when 2014 seemed a lifetime (and indeed it has been a lifetime) away, and because they and I have been through years of separation and weekend visits and phone calls and over 300 plane flights and over $150,000 in child-support payments and over $150,000 in travel expenses, and because both kids ended up attending the university where I work (a small school, so I’ve been able to see them all the time), and because my son has taken up residency in the area, and because their mother and I get along well now, and because they and my wife Cynthia have a sweet and mutually loving relationship that goes back 14 years, and because I just made my very last child-support payment, and because my children are both healthy, functioning human beings who have never been in prison and are not even close to making me a grandfather, this feels really, really good.
It feels so good primarily because, well, I’m still alive. It’s that simple. And they’re still alive. I have lived to see them grow into their adulthoods, from the little people who vomited from stomach viruses and sucked their thumbs too long and refused to eat their vegetables to the bigger people who were written up in school and drank too much and dated the wrong people. They have made it. They did not get addicted to drugs or become alcoholics or swear their allegiance to a cult leader or turn into racist sexist homophobes—and I, I repeat, am still alive. In fact, at 53, I have never felt more alive, I have never felt happier with my life, I have never before felt this confluence of job, marriage, relationships, and personal fulfillment. All aspects of my life (leaving aside for a moment my creaky knees) are in great shape, and when I look back, what is most amazing is that the kids and I have never experienced a significant road bump in our relationship; we never did get to the point where they hated me for leaving their mother or where they openly rebelled against me simply because I’m their father. This stuns me, for I’ve been braced for it, have expected it for lo these 19 years, and while we’ve certainly had our difficult conversations and while they’ve certainly lied to me and deceived me (as all children lie to and deceive their parents), we have never gone through a single day of hatred and at this point (Stephen almost 25, Caitlin 21) I can say with confidence, I can say it with joy, my hands upraised, my head lifted to the sky: WE HAVE MADE IT. We have arrived, by hard work, difficult climbing, teamwork, integrity, love, and perseverance, at the coveted summit of the parent-child relationship. We adore, admire, and respect one another as related human beings. We feel each other’s love; we have faith in it. We treasure our differences and smile at our similarities.
I put my hands on their shoulders and turn them to face you: Stephen Michael Hicks. Caitlin Mary Hicks. Two kindhearted, capable human beings who will do their best to contribute to the good of this world, just by being who they are.
Aren’t they beautiful?