My son, Rob just turned forty, two weeks before my sixty-third birthday. I spoke to him the other day, teasing him gently about the inexorable march of time. His response was good-natured, but still, I could hear in him the tone of disbelief that his youth was a distant dot in his rear view mirror and that middle-age was more than something to await, poke fun at and dread. It is, instead, his present reality. He has transformed from the straw-haired gamin-bodied boy of the fading photos in my album to a bald (a gift from his mother’s side of the family, I think), somewhat thick through the waist, hard-working globe-trotter of the first order. His job, coordinating webcasts for Intel studios sends him all over the world. Sometimes, it seems like he spends more time in airplanes than his apartment in Hillsboro. Recently, for the first time in his life and mine, he got a raise and moved into an income category I never attained in my forty-three years of broadcasting. This is a good thing, and I reminded him of the many times he slept on our couch and occupied our spare rooms during the student/multi-hair colored thrash rocker/between jobs phases of his life. “Buy a king-sized futon,” I advised him. “You never know when Carolyn and I will show up at your door.” He laughed, but I detected an uneasy quality to his guffaw.
Coincidentally, about a week before our conversation, I’d discovered an unlabeled flash drive in the glove box of the Prius. It moved to a counter in the living room for a few days and finally, I took it down and plugged it into my computer. When the menu came up with the contents, I remembered where I’d gotten it—a birthday gift from last year’s birthday from Rob.
When my son was nine or ten, a small portable cassette tape recorder became his toy of choice. At the time, I co-owned and operated a four-track recording studio and creative advertising concern with my friend Rick Huff. Rob spent quite a bit of time there and even voiced his first paying commercial, a cute testimonial for McDonalds that padded his Chuck E Cheese arcade game contingency fund by $25. Soon, he was “laying down tracks” of many of the events of his life.
The flash drive contained dubbed-to-digital snippets of Rob, in a quavery sing-song boy-soprano commenting on our day to day life in Albuquerque, spinning stories about imaginary super heroes and editorializing on the “weirdness” of his dad and his partner Rick. This last part is hard to deny—it’s a matter of record with dozens of eager-to-testify witnesses. He also invents and sings songs—about his pets, about school and makes the random joyful noises only a kid knows how to generate. There are also clips of the television shows he was watching, including running commentary and several minutes of me, co-hosting the local segments of the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
I’m not overly sentimental about the past (Who was it said nostalgia’s not what it used to be?), but hearing his voice (and the younger version of my own) put a lump in my throat the size of a ruby-red grapefruit and dampened my eyes. He was a great little kid, a difficult, but still quality teenager and young adult. Now he’s a middle-aged man I’m proud to call my son and my friend. The flash drive is a sobering reminder that I don’t see as much of him as I’d like to.