Sunday, June 19, 2016

Watching My Son Grow a Little

Evan and me at Nantahala Gorge, N.C. (note the raft in the background).
I have never considered myself to be much of a father, but when I look back on the fun my son and I had when he was a kid--and so was I--I think I made a very good friend.

During Evan's formative years--up until about his senior year in college, in fact--I was an active drunk. But I had days of clarity and times when I could be attentive, instructive and loving. I suspect most drunks fall into that category: good intentions.

There are a few adventures Ev and I shared that I recall now, years later in great detail. We did whitewater rafting trips down the Nantahala River (falling in together in a Class 3 waterfall at one point), rode the bumper boats in Greensboro (he nearly drowned me; at 70 pounds, he was an expert at throwing water), rode the skyride near Cherokee, attended sold-out University of Tennessee football games, went to plays (he never much liked theater unless he was acting) and argued about music.

One Saturday, Ev and I were walking down on City Market in Roanoke. He was about 12 and had been playing piano and violin since he was probably 5 or so. His mother wanted that for him. "Dad," he said, turning to me, "I don't think I want to play music any more."

"Why? I thought you loved music."

"I do, but I don't like the violin."

"If you had a choice, what would you play?"

He thought for a minute. The ball was in his court, where it was unfamiliar. "Guitar, I guess," he said, tentatively.

As good fortune would have it, we were walking by the front door of the Fret Mill, Roanoke's best music shop, at the moment. "Let's see what we can do about that," said I. About 30 minutes later, we walked out of the Fret Mill and Evan was carrying a big guitar case, filled with all he needed, and wearing a huge smile. A few years later, Ken Rattenberry, owner of the Fret Mill, proclaimed Evan "the best young musician in Roanoke."

He became quite good on the bass and now plays probably seven instruments and sings pretty well. I always felt good about that hour or two on City Market.

One other good Dad moment came when Evan was about 15 and was trying out for the brand new lacrosse team at Patrick Henry High. The kids didn't know the game and all of them were struggling with the fundamentals. I was showing up at practice taking pictures and--in my mind--showing support. One Thursday, I was there, but Evan wasn't. The coach didn't know where he was. I went to his mom's house looking for him. I found him in the living room watching TV.

"I'm not any good," he explained to me.

"Evan," I said, "when I was in high school, I once quit the football team because I had taken a nasty beating the day before and didn't want any more. My friend Jerry Turbyfill called me the next morning telling me he'd meet me at practice. I told him I wasn't going back. He said, 'Oh, yes you are. The two of us have some getting even to do and I ain't doin' it without you.' We showed up, kicked ass and stuck it out."

Evan stayed with the team, enjoyed and learned and grew up a lot. I was happy about that.

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