What is it about youth that we so envy? Do we envy youth because of our own cherished memory of it? Is it that we can imagine a time in our own lives when we had muscles that could lift the heavy things and eyes that could see the small things? Is it that we remember what it was like to have freedom? Freedom during our days and our nights, to drive and to play and to explore the things that we didn’t yet know? Or do we wish for those days when we were more attractive and fit, our faces smooth and bright? Is it something so basic as that? Is it something physical that we miss, or is it a free state of being that we know we will never, ever, recapture?
My son turned 17 today. I don’t know what time he was born, but I do know that it was a Sunday morning and Roger Federer was winning Wimbledon on the television in the recovery room. I’d like to tell you that I was full of pride and wonder back then, but I really wasn’t. I was full of anxiety. Of worry. I didn’t feel responsible for very much until that day. I didn’t worry about my ability to raise a son, as I had my own father to give me clues as to how I should, and shouldn’t, raise him. But I did worry. A lot.
Today, I sit at this desk and I think about my son. I think about his first 16 years and his next 16. I think about what he means to me. I think about the times I’ve had with him and the times I’ve been a great dad, which may or may not pale in comparison to the times that I’ve been a bad dad. My wife would remind you that I’m a bad dad very often. That I yell at him when I shouldn’t and I praise him when I shouldn’t. That I don’t choose my words wisely, which may very well be true. She doesn’t see what I see, or at least understand what I understand in the way that I understand it. I understand my own job as a father in a way that I find difficult to articulate. I’m trying to raise him so that when I’m no longer here he won’t have to wonder what he should do. I don’t want him to be faced with something that he never learned to face. I don’t want him to be fearful of his future. I want him to embrace it and hold onto it and strangle the potential out of it.
I know every parent is proud of their child. I’m proud of my daughter, of course. But those reasons for my pride in her are very different than the reasons I’m proud of my son. He works hard and is diligent. And in Curry fashion, he procrastinates. Maybe he’s just honing his ability to perform under stress, at least that’s what I was thinking last Sunday night when he was in front of me at my office working late into the night on a college assignment that was due that very evening. I’ve tried to help him find a path forward, and I’ll admit to you that the path I’ve tried to pull him down is a path to success that I’ve learned from my own life and my encounters with some of the most successful individuals this world can offer. My son hasn’t always seen the reasons to follow that path, because if you acknowledge expectations then you also much acknowledge the real chance of failure, but he increasingly appears to understand that a particular path is necessary. In a world where many have taken to protesting the path because it’s hard and it requires discipline, my son appears close to at least understanding its importance, which is plenty enough for me.
I’ve watched my son grow up, and from this vantage point I find it to be such a curious spectacle. I don’t feel very far removed from the events that he’s going through now. I see him struggle and I see him succeed, and with every setback I feel immense pain and with every victory I’m overwhelmed with pride. Because of him I can see what it is that we envy in the young. It isn’t the smooth skin or the muscles or the light in their eyes. It’s the potential. At some point, we follow a path and we become what we’re going to become. I know there are folks who reinvent themselves later in life, but I see this as a rare and unique event. Most of us arrive at where we’re going fairly early in life, and we spend the rest of our days wondering what it might have been like to do, or to be, something different. I chose a path at an absurdly young age, and I’ve spent all of my days since trying to make the best of it. Today, you’d be hard pressed to claim that I haven’t done exactly that. But whatever I’ve become and whatever I might yet be aren’t materially different. My son, at age 17, has all of the opportunity before him and an endless vat of potential at his disposal. I know that some fathers choose to be envious of their children and that potential, or that success, perhaps because they can so clearly see their own mistakes and missteps, and I cannot fathom entertaining such a bitter disposition.
Here’s to my son Thomas on his 17th birthday. To his remarkable effort so far and to the extraordinary, limitless potential that I see in him. I can imagine no finer future than one in which I’m lucky enough to have a front row seat to watch him earn his place in this world.