Days are long, but years are short

Eighteen years ago, I sat down and penned a newspaper column written specifically as a letter to my unborn son. I was 25 years old at the time and was pretty sure I had life figured out.

The poorly-written piece published in my hometown nespaper was full of cliche advice that you would expect a 25-year-old to muster. Looking back at what I wrote, I don’t see how anyone could have thought I had any business becoming a father.

Now a father of four teenage sons, I feel the same way most days.

I’ve been putting off this column for weeks now. But with my oldest son’s high school graduation just days away, I have officially run out of time.The mere thought of it sends shudders up and down my spine. Not so much because I’m concerned about what the future holds for him. After all, he’s bright, musically talented, and perhaps most importantly has a great head on his shoulders. Instead, I find it impossible to believe I’m old enough to have a child graduating from high school.

But that’s how time works. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short.

I mean, let’s face it. Parenting is hard.

Need proof? Check out my head full of gray hair. Need further proof? Check out those wrinkles stretched across my furrowed brow.

I’d like to say I’m not one of those helicopter parents who has been obsessed with his every accomplishment, but I did once spend $150 to have one of his preschool crayon drawings matted and professionally framed.

Named after my maternal grandfather, the oldest of my four sons has been an old soul for as long as I can remember.

On his first day of kindergarten – which still seems like it was yesterday – his nervous mother walked him to his classroom at Roosevelt Elementary in Pryor, Okla. and helped him get settled. While other kids were crying and hanging onto their mothers’ necks, Bynum sat down quietly at his desk and began to practice writing his name.

When it was finally time for all the moms to exit stage left, he simply stood up, extended his hand for his mother to shake, and ushered her out the door.

He was already 40 years old at the age of six.

As I think about him growing up, there are a handful of stories that stick out – most notably the day he came home from school and asked me if I would be willing to take him on a trip – just the two of us.

He was eight years old at the time and with three little brothers at home already nipping on his heels, it didn’t take him long to figure out one-on-one time with his old man was something that was hard to come by.

I agreed and assumed we would find our way to Walt Disney World or Six Flags or something of the sort. Instead? He asked me to take him to Washington, D.C., which he had been studying at school.

My parents met, fell in love, and were married in Washington and the capitol city has long been a special place in the history of our family. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

The week we spent together walking in the footsteps of history was magical and our trip together led to similar trips I took with each of his brothers.

Of course, not all of our memories were as pleasant including those terrible middle school years, but we’ll leave that for another day. But somehow we both managed to survive it all and here we are on the eve of his high school graduation.

As I tried to explain to someone the other day, although graduating from high school is the most significant event of his life up to this point, graduating from high school will ultimately be one of the least significant events of his life, too.

It’s heady stuff for an 18-year-old to comprehend and even more so for his 43-year-old father.

I remember my senior year in high school like it was yesterday. My four best friends and I were unseparable in the days leading up to graduation. We laughed about the experiences we had shared together growing up in Pryor Creek and we cried at the prospect we would soon head our separate ways.

Even back then, music was a central theme to our relationship and we spent those last few days driving around listening to our favorite songs on repeat.

We knew things would never be the same and as it turned out, they weren’t.

They were better.

We didn’t know it at the time, but our college experience would ultimately be the thing that would prepare us for life as we would come to know it.

Tom ended up in Nashville. Darin lives in Kansas City. Ryan lives in Dallas. And I’m here in south Mississippi.

Although I don’t talk to Darin or Ryan all that much these days, Tom and I have become even closer in the last 25 years. Our friendship has grown much like our families have. In fact, we have seven children between the two of us.

Which brings me back full circle to this weekend’s graduation activities.

Regardless of where you’re at in life, it’s almost impossible to guess where you’ll end up.

The only absolute in life is that there are no absolutes. I certainly would have never guessed I would have ended up in Mississippi, but I have – and I have found a wealth of friends here in the Magnolia State.

In James Taylor’s song “Secret o’ Life,” he suggests that the “secret of life is enjoying the passage of time” and I have a tendency to agree.

Time is something we never quite get a grip on and  I’m not sure we would want to if we could.

“Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill. But since we're on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.”

Congratulations, son. Try to enjoy the ride.


Gustafson is the not-so mild-mannered editor and publisher of The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, and The Petal News.