He took a deep drag, slowly exhaled and asked me,
“How’s the cigar?”
I sat back in my chair, smiled contentedly at my youngest boy and replied,
“You could have had any cigar, Dad. Why did you pick the cheapie?”
“Because it’s good enough.”
“I love that about you, Dad. You’re so easily satisfied.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Wherever you are, that’s the place to be. Whatever you’re drinking is good enough. Whatever you are eating is good enough. It’s awesome and I try to do it.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. We puffed on our cigars, watched the smoke wisp into the late afternoon sky and savored the moment.
Finally, I broke the silence.
“I haven’t always been like this. It’s the result of a lot of hard lessons that I, fortunately, learned from. From trying to be something I’m not, from ignoring my better judgment, from trying too hard. I found myself after taking the most indirect, rocky, hilly and winding road you could ever imagine.”
“So what, or who are you now?”
“I’m simple. I’m grateful. I’m not greedy and I’m not always looking for something better.”
He studied his cigar for a while as he absorbed my words. I studied him. 6 foot tall, broad shoulders, a kind bearded face, sitting in his chair supremely confident and present in the moment. I was beaming with pride.
Once, he was my most difficult child. We just didn’t click. He was surly, argued with me about everything, we had nothing in common. I went to bed so many nights feeling a failure as his father. I dedicated myself to fixing it, finding common ground. It seemed like it was overnight, of course it wasn’t, that we suddenly clicked. We listened to the same music, binged the same shows and movies on Netflix, we started to have the most amazing conversations. Like this one.
“Dad, how old do you have to be before you have wisdom?”
“It depends on how much you’ve lived your life, I guess.” I paused to hit off the cigar. “Live hard, make mistakes, crash and burn a few times, take a few risks and you will learn enough to earn wisdom. If you don’t live your life, you won’t . But, if you’re open to it, you can benefit from the wisdom of others.”
“So wisdom is earned. I’m only 19 but I feel that I have wisdom.”
“You know life lessons by watching me fuck up a million times. It’s a cautionary tale, not wisdom.”
“ I think I have it. But ok.”
“Kid, it’s not an insult and I’m not disagreeing with you. There’s a saying,’youth is wasted on the young.’”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that when you are young, you don’t know how great it is to be at that stage of your life. Free, unencumbered with good health and opportunities ahead of you. It is only when you are older when you appreciate those things. Some of those mistakes you made when young taught you how to be a good adult”.
I explained to him that I learned to take whatever beer someone offers you after I insulted my father’s friend by complaining about the beer he gave me. My father was so pissed I never did it again.
I learned to not look over the fence for greener grass after I walked on my neighbor’s ultra-green patch of grass only to sink ankle-deep into a leaking septic system.I learned fidelity after trying to date two girls at one time. I lost a girl that may have been the one.
I learned that a 20 dollar cigar tasted no better to me than a 2 dollar cigar. I don’t have a refined pallet and I shouldn’t pretend to.
I learned to value friendship when I became sick and most of my friends stopped calling me. I made new friends that were always there for me. They made me a better friend also.
I learned generosity and charity by hitting rock bottom, losing everything. I began to see everyone on the same level.
I learned gratitude when someone saved my life by donating an organ.
I learned to be a better father by crying myself to sleep in fear of my someday adult kids hating me.
I learned to be a better husband when I realized my wife no longer loved me.I learned not to kick the can down the road when I realized that I tried to save my marriage too late.
I learned that it is more important to seek respect than admiration.
I learned that telling the truth is always better after being caught in a lie.
I learned to appreciate each sunset after almost dying.
By the time I was done talking our cigars had burned down to a nub. He had sat and listened silently the whole time. His only response was,
“Kid, I could go on forever but I won’t. You get the idea.”
“Not really, there was a lot of ideas there.”
“The idea is, you will learn some things by heeding the advice of one who knows. And you will learn other things by charging forward and living your life. Either way, you will learn how to be and how not to be. It’s a blueprint, not a prediction.”
“It’s complicated I guess” he said.
“Not really,” I said. “One day it will all become clear.”
“If you say so.”
“There’s one more thing I forgot to mention.”
“Make the most of each moment because you might not get another.” I stubbed my finished cigar in the ashtray. “I want to make the most of this one so get us another cigar. And grab a couple of beers while you’re in there.”
He smiled and pulled his lanky frame out of the low chair. “I’m 19, are you sure.”
“Carpe fuckin’ Diem, kid. I’m sure.”
I love this kid. He gets it. Isn’t that what we all want to say about our kids?