The first time I saw him his blue eyes looked up at me as a small hand wrapped around my finger, and I knew nothing for either of us would ever be the same again. The Boy doesn’t remember that day, the months or even the years that followed. But I was there. So it’s left up to me to give him a glimpse into his past, to show him where he came from, so he’ll know where’s he’s going and what awaits him when he gets there.
That day I had made a promise to myself and him to answer all of his questions about life and the world, but I had no idea just how difficult fulfilling that promise would eventually become.
At age 3 we took a trip to Callaway Gardens. He fed bread to the white ducks and ran away when they chased him. Covered with butterflies in the indoor greenhouse, he laughed as one landed on his nose. I still have the picture.
On the way back home, I tried to answer his question of where butterflies come from and frame it into an answer someone his age could understand. It took an hour, but I think I did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, The Boy had fallen asleep as soon as we left the parking lot.
The questions kept coming, and at age 5 he asked where clouds came from. By the time I had formulated a scientific answer on the level suitable for a 5-year-old, he had asked 10 more. It took all that spring day, but before bedtime every question was answered. And as I tucked him in, he asked 10 more.
That night I realized answering his questions would be a job that was never-ending. Sadly, what I didn’t know was one day he’d stop asking. But thankfully that was to be many years away.
At age 11, The Boy took his first ambulance ride. Unfortunately it wasn’t for pleasure; he was being transported because an experiment had exploded in his face. In the emergency room through the face bandages and pain, he said he was sorry and then asked another question, “Dad, why are you crying? Aren’t you mad at me?”
After a few hugs and a lot of tears, I said no. I was thankful. Then he asked why. I replied, “For that answer, son, you’ll just have to wait until you have a red-headed, freckle-faced boy of your own. Then you will know.”
When he reached high school, he asked all the normal questions about girls. The answers I knew I passed on. The others I told him he would simply have to learn on his own. Besides, I was still learning myself.
I’ve had the enjoyment of watching him grow the last 24 years from a baby the size of a football, to a man who’s as tall as his father. Through the good times and not so good times there have always been questions. Somehow, I’ve provide answers. Some were hard for The Boy to hear, but they were my answers all the same.
Now that he’s older, the questions are fewer and farther between, but that will all change one day when The Boy marries and has a Boy or Girl of his own.
The Boy still takes ambulance rides, only now he’s the one driving. He grew up to be a firefighter like his dad.
Funny, what career was he was going to have when he grew up was a question I don’t remember him ever asking. It seems from early on that was one answer he already knew.
Happy birthday, son.[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is email@example.com.]