I’ll never forget the day you rode the school bus home for the first time as a kindergartener. Your mother and I had been apprehensive about letting you ride the bus, knowing all-too-well about your propensity to find mischief wherever you went. Nevertheless, my job in Columbia made it difficult to pick you up on time at your school in Ashland, (remind me to apologize again to Mrs. Francis for keeping her waiting so often), therefore, we decided with great trepidation to give the bus a try.
When I picked you up at the bus stop that afternoon, I asked you how your maiden voyage went.
“Great!” you excitedly proclaimed. “The kids gave me a nickname: Underwear Head!”
I hesitated to ask any further questions, but I had to know more. “Why did they call you Underwear Head?”
“Because I was running up and down the isle of the bus with underwear on my head!” From that day forward, you were the only kindergartener who did not keep an extra set of clothes in his backpack.
While a student at the primary school—where I now teach and strive to preserve order—you were frequently sent to Mr. Salmons’s office for causing disruptions in your classroom. Once, when I asked what you thought about being sent to the principal’s office, you said, “Oh, it’s nice. He has a really comfortable couch.”
In middle school, the principal called me quite a few times to discuss your hijinks. It was such a regular occurrence that Mr. Kiley began one phone conversation with an apology. “I’m sorry to bother you again, Mr. Naughton. But don’t worry—it’s NOT about your son this time.” He had called to offer me a substitute teaching assignment, which I gladly accepted.
By the time you got to high school, you finally figured out how to control yourself in class. You still knew how to make your friends laugh, but you also learned how to be a good student with a focus on your future.
Everyone tells me how alike you and I are. In many ways, they are right. We both have a good sense of humor. We both like to write. We like Star Wars and Avengers movies. And we’re a couple of handsome devils, if I do say so myself.
But there are some differences between us that are pretty hard to ignore. You’re 6’3” tall. I’m 5’7”. You can grow a beard. I’m still working on it. I can drive a car with a three-on-the-tree manual transmission. You cannot.
In one area, we are polar opposites. When I was a young kid, I did everything I could to avoid being sent to the principal’s office. I hated being in trouble because I wanted my parents to be proud of me—and because I was terrified of my mother. But by the time I was counting down the days to graduation, my life was nothing but trouble.
As a senior in high school, I was getting drunk two or three nights per week with my friends. I took the ACT college entrance exam with a crushing hangover—twice. I had a party at my dad’s house one night when he was out of town that got so out of hand that the police were called.
And then I spent the next quarter-century in a drunken, mostly unhappy haze.
You, on the other hand, spent most of your childhood in the principal’s office. You could not have cared less about getting in trouble. Yet here you are getting ready to graduate and go to college with a sizable scholarship and a very bright future. You are not a fall-down drunk like your old man was at your age, and you haven’t been busted by the cops for being an idiot.
In almost every way, you are a much better human being at the age of 18 than I was. You are infinitely kinder to your younger siblings than I ever was to mine. You are honest with your parents, and you show us genuine respect and affection. I wish I had treated my folks as well as you treat your mom and me.
Someday, Son, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.
I hope that you will continue to be the thoughtful, caring, funny, and decent person you are today. You’ve come a long way since the days of Underwear Head, and I can’t wait to see what new adventures await you.
I love you more than you can possibly imagine, Son, and I’m so, so proud of the young man you have become. Congratulations on your graduation.