My oldest son likes drama. When he was very young, he had horrible asthma. Too many times, I’d look at him and worry that he was done breathing. Always, with the care of doctors and emergency room nurses, he made it. In his early years at school, he displayed brilliance and an amazing imagination. Sometimes, his imagination would take him in, and it would seem that he was living in the world he created. I always wondered about where that imagination would take him, at the same time that I tried to persuade him that it was worth the effort to shower every day and do his homework.
At some point in time, when he was about 12 or 13, he told me that I needed to understand that he was not “the guy,” but was just “a guy.” At that point, I felt I knew what he meant. So much attention as a first son and first grandchild, so many adults hinging on his every word — not as much room as he needed to figure out who he was — to come, as it were, to grips with being Emerson. I tried to hear him and to make room for his explorations. After all, he managed to live through mine (divorce, remarriage, stepsiblings). His adaptability ultimately proving one of his great qualities even though the way through all of this was nowhere near easy for him or for any of us.
He discovered things he loved to do. And among those things, acting was (and is) at the top of the list. He has played serious roles, humorous ones, large and small ones. In each, I have seen him dig somewhere into his life of experience and find a character and then make that character real. In one instance, he found playing a part so intense that he was tired and down for the whole week of the show. In another, hyper because the character was that too. All of these pieces of him coming out through his art — and merging in my understanding of my son. I am not going to tell you how talented he is. I am just going to say that seeing such expression by someone you remember as a baby defies explanation.
Tomorrow, we are going to visit colleges. In each instance, he has selected schools that combine liberal arts excellence and serious theater. I can tell that he is a little nervous about it. I am looking forward to the long drive, to the time in the car in which we will talk — aware that another step looms and aware as well that the steps leading up to this point, while not always taken in order and while not always without pain, make this next one possible. And, quietly, I hang on to my sense that each of these schools will see what I do. My son is not “the guy,” but he is not “a guy” either. He is Emerson — the combination of his own experiences and imagination and vision.
So, as we head off on this next step of the journey, I want to take a moment to write about the essential wonder of being a father. I am, in so many respects, a very lucky man.
2/17/2013 — Emerson will be a member of the class of 2017 at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. It’s a lucky school.