Chippewa Herald * July 2, 2008       Visitor
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Off he goes, into the wild blue yonder

Son's final haircut brings back flood of memories

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

I had trouble going to sleep last Tuesday night -- my pillow was wet. It's not often I sob uncontrollably, but our little boy was leaving.

My wife Beth had just given Ben "the haircut." At midnight, no less. Benjamin would be leaving the next morning for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Putting my hand on Ben's head of quarter-inch hair brought back memories of his boyhood when buzzcuts were the norm.

The last year has been full of mixed emotions in our family. On the one hand, Ben is definitely ready to leap into adulthood.

Physically, he towers over the rest of us and is in amazing condition, having pushed himself through the USAFA training for months -- running, pullups, pushups, situps, intervals -- in addition to his normal weightlifting routine.

Mentally, he has developed a solid work ethic of putting academics ahead of fun. He is often not the first to catch on to a concept, but he will pursue it doggedly until he fully understands.

Emotionally, he is as loud and obnoxious as any 18-year-old male. He needs his own space!

Spiritually, he submits to God's authority and reads his Bible every day. He has a keen sense of right and wrong -- he has already been living the "honor code" that will be strictly enforced at the Academy.

Some of his friends look at him funny when he refuses to put "free" downloaded songs on his iPod. This attention to the letter of the law will serve him well at the Academy. As the Bible says, "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

He will be a great Air Force officer.

When I think of those characteristics, I feel nothing but pride and honor and excitement for his future.

On the other hand, when I feel that fuzzy head of hair...well, it takes me back, and that's when I lose it.

I suppose it doesn't help that I have his furry little blue striped shirt on the shelf by my desk at work. Beth was going to THROW IT AWAY fifteen years could she do that?! Too many memories, so here it sits.

Right next to it are Ben's first pair of toddler shoes. You can tell by the scuff marks and the embedded dirt that he jumped around a lot. (Some things don't change.)

Those shoes take me back even further, to a February 1989 barbershop harmony chorus rehearsal in Portland, Oregon.

Beth and I had been trying to have kids for a couple years. That might not seem like much now, but at the time, when you're not sure if you can ever have kids, two years seems like an eternity.

I was up in front of 90 fellow barbershop singers, and in walks Beth with a little package. "Go ahead, open it," she says.

So in front of all those guys, I opened the box, and pulled out a pair of baby booties. It took a few seconds to sink in, before I realized that she was PREGNANT! Needless to say, my first encounter with Ben was a little emotional, too.

When Ben got the Academy appointment from Senator Kohl last November, we knew that we are entering a series of "lasts." Sure, he'd be home for Christmases, but in February we celebrated the last Groundhog Day that we would spend with Ben, at least for nine years. Same for birthdays and other minor holidays. Marking the "lasts" drove Beth nuts, but I guess I'm the nostalgic one.

One thing that helps me cope is that I have no regrets as a father. I've made plenty of mistakes -- nobody is perfect. But thanks to books I've read, radio programs like "Focus on the Family," mentors from church, and the example of my own dad, I've learned to put my family first whenever possible.

Back in 1989, I thought it would be a big sacrifice to postpone or give up my many hobbies and interests, but fatherhood turned out to be the greatest adventure of all. I've loved every minute of it!

Well, maybe not the last few days. It just hurts.

All I can think of is the lyrics to the haunting minor-key melody from "Fiddler on the Roof" (with plenty of violins):

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he get to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

I'm just glad my office at work has a door on it.

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