Growing Pains

I work as a public engagement manager for Duke Energy and, in February, a customer told me, “I remember when you drove the mower into the swing set.”

The comment was a nod to my former life as a columnist at the Ocala Star-Banner, where I worked for 28 years and—to be sure—it was the first time my old career and new career overlapped.

The customer was referring to a column I wrote detailing a legendary chapter in our family’s history in which—during my riding mower’s maiden voyage—a swing caught the mower’s clutch, pulling its front end higher and higher into the air.

I flapped wildly and bailed off into a patch of freshly mowed grass. I turned to see the mower still hooked to the swing, stuck at a 60-degree angle like an art installation.

In a touching display of concern, my wife and daughters declared it the “funniest thing they had ever seen.”

Now, nearly 15 years later, a Duke Energy customer recognized my name and—to my surprise—reminisced with me over that and other dumb things I wrote about.

“How old are your daughters now?” she asked.

The question caught me at a vulnerable time. The answer is 21 and 17—as in my wife and I will be empty nesters in two years.

I have been struggling with that lately.

Not long ago, a friend stopped by our house to drop something off. He then texted me a photo of our basketball hoop and suggested it was time to take it down. Its backboard is stained by time, its decaying net buried in moss.

Take it down? We just played on it… well, OK. It’s been six years.

I started noticing other relics in the house.

A Cinderella plate. A plastic whale dish. A sign proclaiming “Welcome Home, #1 Dad.” A sketch in colored pencil depicting a grinning mouth with a missing tooth and the caption: “Sup, Dude?” One kitchen drawer still contains spoons decorated with hearts.

Katie is now a university junior and Caroline is a high school junior who gets mail from colleges almost every day, I explained to the customer.

Even as I write these words, I tremble a bit, and if I dwell too long on this paragraph I will surely cry.

I find myself standing in our backyard thinking about the water balloon fights, piggyback rides and swings used for swinging and not mower mishaps. And yet I think about that mower accident with fondness.

Sure, it was scary. The mower nearly fell on top of me, but I also remember the sounds of squealing girl laughter erupting from the porch. That is a key element in the legend.

I’m not sure what the point of this column is. It boils down to obvious axioms, I guess—kids grow up fast, cherish the time, play more, work less, don’t crash mowers.

But here is my takeaway: No matter where our brilliant and beautiful daughters are, no matter what worlds they are conquering, this #1 Dad will always be ready for basketball and snacks on Cinderella plates.

And when those wonderful women come home for visits, I will greet them with a sincere “Sup, Dude?”

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