Graduating Into Life

Category: Weekly Columns

Waiting for his name to be called…to the podium…to receive his diploma!

My son graduated from high school this year. In the fall, he’s going to college. For some reason, I did not grasp the significance of his high school graduation during the event itself. Maybe it was the intense crowds and poor organization of it all? Maybe it was the struggles we endured during his early years in high school. Maybe I don’t know what it was?

Mr. Cool…dressed for prom

What I came to realize later is that high school represents something that turning 18 also represents: adulthood. Now, “adulthood” or reaching a certain age most certainly does not guarantee maturity, especially for boys. Now that we know that the frontal lobe of the brain doesn’t fully mature until the mid-twenties, it explains much we didn’t understand in the past. Now, we may understand it better but it still can make parents nuts.

I sort of sleep-walked through my son going to his prom, finishing up his senior year, and walking in the procession to the ubiquitous background of Pomp and Circumstance. I took the requisite photos and videos for posterity, but I was just a tad removed emotionally.

Fly by from their friend who had committed suicide during their Senior Year

A part of me recalled my own high school graduation, at age 16, when I went to work literally the moment it was over. My son went to an all-night party, after having a senior’s brunch the day before, and a party at Magic Mountain earlier in the week, preceded by the prom. Instead of going to work after his high school graduation, he flew to Boston for 72 hours of mostly fun, and also some music placement exams for the college he’ll be attending in Boston: The Berklee College of Music.

What I began to realize – dolt that I can be – is that this graduation, coupled with that trip alone to Boston, was the beginning of his graduation into life. Yes, he still relies on me for much, but during those 72 hours away it was rapidly becoming clear that he was doing just fine on his own. When he returned, he laughingly recounted how one freshman girl was so anxious about simply getting from place-to-place.

Proud Dad!

I didn’t remind him how not so long ago – like yesterday – he was exactly the same! I didn’t remind him how he has asked me to help fill out so many forms he’s needed, from his DMV application to his college application. I didn’t remind him how before he got his driver’s license; I actually HAD to take him anywhere he wanted to go. I didn’t remind him that I’d changed his diapers back in the day.

Instead, I began to revel in his independence. I envied the new journey he was beginning. I was jealous of the excitement he felt and the cool people he was meeting. I was excited for him.

That’s My Boy

I have a sort of old-man mentality; though I live my life fully engaged and do things few “old men” do, such as heli-ski and participate in so many forms of contemporary technology, specifically Social Media. Nonetheless, I do fall into that trap of calling myself an old guy, extolling the virtues of my glory days, and remembering how much better it was when I was younger.

Sometimes I do those things just to get a rise out of others; sometimes I really feel them. I know my life is as active, engaged, and busy as ever. I am as excited to get up each morning as I was at the height of my showbiz career, when there were many incredible experiences over a quarter century (see 12 Most Unforgettable Showbiz Memories).

Arnie with his high school and now ex-girlfriend – still good friends!

A recent column of mine (The Novel of Having Kids) compared raising children to the greatest novels and sagas of the written word, film, or television. Graduating high school and moving on in life is another BIG chapter in this serialized real-life drama. I’m extremely excited for my son. I’m nervous that I can’t be there to hold his hand during the hard times, though I KNOW that he needs to stand on his own.

Knowing my son would be embarking on this “graduation,” I’ve been emotionally preparing as every soon-to-be empty nester does. Yes, I have a remaining son at home, but this is the first bird to leave. We will be doing a last and very special father-son adventure together.

The Sallan Family

My college-bound son and I will be driving cross-country, from Los Angeles to Boston. It will be a nearly 3,000-mile drive, partially sponsored by FORD, who is loaning us a Flex for the trip. We will stop in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab, Denver, Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit – and the FORD factory, Cleveland – and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls, Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, and on to Boston.

Details of this trip are still being worked on and I’m seeking other sponsors and, hopefully, will do a charity fund-raiser along the way as well. I expect to do some media stops as well, especially in Cleveland where I’ll visit NewsTalk 1420 WHK, the Salem Radio station that carries my radio show there.

But, this trip is about my son and me. It is my goodbye. It is my send-off to him as he is definitely graduating into life!