A child learns from his parents, but sometimes, the parents can learn from their child.— Gregorio Santos, composer.
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“My son learned to water ski this summer.”
I penned that proclamation September 22, 1987. My son, Lee, was seven years old.
“No big deal you say,” that column continued. “Lots of youngsters tackle things like water skiing, swimming, and bicycle riding. Oh yeah, did I tell you he also learned to ride a bicycle this summer?”
I revisited that piece last week for the first time since I wrote it. It surfaced while working on my latest project, collecting, and cataloging many years of my attempts at weekly ramblings. All the way back to my first column in November of 1980. It’s been fun. It’s been frustrating. It’s been fulfilling.
When I wrote my first more than 42 years ago, the farthest thing from my mind was that it may have been the beginning of what would someday resemble my life’s resume. More often, I have said column writing became my cheap therapy. Something I admitted in writing as early as the column I wrote about Lee. “People who write often share their souls with the world by committing things to the posterity of print for all the world to read,” were my exact words. “Things that others may think but never say. It keeps me sane, and it’s cheaper than a therapist.”
“What follows has been on my mind for some time,” that column continued. Thoughts waiting to be set free. Feelings that started when our seven-year-old, Lee, first maneuvered a bicycle down the driveway earlier last spring. He was proud, but proud couldn’t touch my feelings.
“Then, this summer, when I watched as he overcame frustration and failed attempts to stay on top of water skis, I wasn’t sure which was bigger. The lump in my throat or the smile on his wet face as I watched from the boat when he finally persevered, holding on to the ski rope for dear life.
“What father is not proud of his children’s achievements? Bear with me a minute longer. Let me tell you about my pride,” I wrote.
“Go back with me to 1980 when Lee was born. May 12. Share with me disbelief, fear, and heartache when doctors said shortly after Lee entered the world that his chances for survival were not good. As I tried to process what the doctor was saying. I heard words like, ‘Don’t get your hopes up.’ Statements about how fewer than 10 percent of babies born with the problems Lee came with survived. And how survivors are typically weak and frail children who never properly or fully develop to adulthood.”
The column chronicled the six weeks we stood vigil at Schumpert’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Shreveport with a glass partition separating us from our newborn. I also confessed thoughts about my weakness, doubts about whether hours of reconstructive surgery the same day he was born would be successful. And if he did make it, what kind of a life would he face.
“But,” the column also recounted, “that’s only background for the message that follows.”
I lauded long about how Lee quickly became an impatient second grader making excellent grades, climbing trees, skateboarding, and water skiing. About him decorating his sister’s room with Crayolas, running off the cat, and mesmerizing the neighbors. But most of all, about how he, along with his nine-year-old sister, brought so much love into our home.
I concluded by writing, “Still, every time I watch him accomplish another milestone in life, I’m thankful for his accomplishments and thankful that he’s my son. Not because of what he’s done or how far he’s come from where he started. Hey, by the time he reached his first birthday, you’d never know what he went through the first year of his life.
“I’m grateful most of all for what he’s taught me. Because every time he rides his bike across the yard or skis across the lake, I think God knew seven years ago what Lee could do for me.
“But that’s another story, another part of my soul to be shared in another column.
“I’ve told you my son learned to water ski this summer. Only God in heaven knows what I’ve learned from him.”
As I share my soul in this message in 2023, my son Lee will be 43 this coming May.
I still thank God for him and his amazing sister, Robin. I’m still learning from both.
And I’m still writing for therapy. Cheap therapy.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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