A Father's Journal / Measuring dreams of youth against reality
Eleven-year-old Sam was walking with my two daughters and explaining in excruciating detail what his life would be like in the future. Where he was going to college, where he was going to live post graduation, and how he was going to make a living.
He had such certainty that when he asked my 16-year-old about her future, she paused. She had no such plans. Sensing her unease, Sam tried to reassure her. He said, "That's OK; some people don't know what they want to do with their life until ... they're like 17."
When I heard it, I looked back on my life. I was a bit past 17 and still was figuring it out. Did I maybe have it all figured out at 11 or 17, and life just beat the certainty out of me?
Three people I knew died within the last 18 months: My uncle, my neighbor and my co-worker. Did they know everything at 11 or even 17?
My uncle would have to be clairvoyant at 11 or even at 17 to see his future. He probably saw his future similarly to how my dad saw his. They were sons of farmers in Iowa, and they would also be farmers. At 11 or 17, did he see the problems mounting in Europe that would throw his life and the country into a World War? At 11, he probably dreamed his life as a shortstop for the Cubs. After the war, he worked for many years as an electrician with Alcoa aluminum and was active in state politics.
I didn't know my Uncle Dan very well. He died last year. We lived thousands of miles apart. Every time he met me, he had a tough time distinguishing me from my brothers. He would ask questions, and I would mostly answer "No that was my brother Mike" (or John, or Tim). I have quite a few brothers, and we look alike. By the time he figured out who I was, it was time to leave and the next time we'd start all over again.
When my neighbor Dick Carpenter was 11, he wanted to play baseball for the then-New York Giants. He came close. He played, and later coached minor league ball. At 17, he knew who he wanted to marry. Sue Rushmore was his high school sweetheart, and 60-plus years later she mourns the loss of her husband, who died a few weeks ago. Like my Uncle Dan, the war got in the way of his vision. After the war, he wrote for newspapers and for public-relations departments, even starting his own PR firm that handled golf tournaments. I'm not sure that at 11 he could see that clearly.
Those baseball skills he was honing at 11 helped my daughter when she wanted to play softball at 11. He would often practice with her, throwing balls to her in the street.
My coworker Bob Smart was good with electronics. At 11 he probably dreamed of being a race-car driver. He was a lifelong NASCAR fan and car enthusiast. Like the other two, he also was in the military -- Desert Storm. Unlike the others, he died suddenly, leaving behind a son still in high school. I do not know what his dreams were at 17. His dreams as an adult were about his son. He really loved his job. He liked the electronics. He liked creating something from a pile of electronic gear.
He died in his company vehicle, driving.
When I was 11, I thought I would marry a girl from Joy School, the elementary school down the road from our school. The girls there seemed so exotic. I thought I would live in a cabin like the one we eventually built as a family camp.
I never thought I would live in and work in Connecticut. I never thought about Connecticut. At 11, I was probably unaware that Connecticut was even a state. Even at 17, I'm sure I could not find it on a map. Geography was not my best subject. At 17, I'm sure I had dreams. I can't remember them all. I had a lot of hair. I had thick hair. Nice hair. I sometimes wonder: If my 17-year-old self met me today, would he be disappointed? Would he slap me? Would I slap him?
I'm sure a few of my dreams from 11 are still alive in me. I fulfilled a few. I just no longer have the hair.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.