When I was about 30 years old, an extended family member asked me when I was going to grow up. I replied “never.” That was not the answer she was searching for. I failed the test. But the truth is I have grown up. I am not as impulsive as I was at one time. I am far more cautious than I was in my younger years. Perhaps the word “tame” is fitting. I am not convinced that is entirely good.
Earlier this fall a friend lost his son as the result of a vehicle/pedestrian accident. It was truly an accident, but the outcome was devastating. The young victim was an up and coming engineer for a large corporation. At age 24, Ryan had finished his degree at a prestigious university and was quickly making his way in the world. He had no shortage of friends. His generous heart and well developed interpersonal skills drew people to him in all sorts of social settings.
As we discussed the pain of acute grief only weeks after his son’s death, his dad told me about a friend that chose to honor his son in a unique way. The man felt that a tangible memorial strategically placed was the right thing to do. He purchased a Crimson King Red Maple tree. And he decided that the tree should be planted in front of the engineering building, where Ryan spent a good deal of time during his undergraduate experience. Bear in mind there are over 57,000 students at this well-known university.
Universities invented the phrase “red-tape.” Large institutes of higher learning hire people to take care of their landscaping and grounds maintenance. There is no such thing as random tree planting. Planting a memorial tree would likely necessitate the formation of three committees and the approval of several deans. It would not be out of the question for them to initiate a research project on Crimson Red Maple trees by some PHD on campus. In the final analysis, the gentleman made arrangements to have the tree planted in front of the fraternity house, where Ryan also spent a good deal of time.
I like this man. He is my age, but life has not tamed him completely. He is still impulsive. He still thinks you can throw caution to the wind and plant trees where you think they should be planted. He cares about his grieving friend and sees the value in a tangible memorial. He is thoughtful and tenacious. He is creative in the way he chooses to express compassion. Thankfully he has not grown up yet and I hope he never does.
And… I learned something about fatherhood after hearing this “tree story.” Becoming tame and mellow and all grown up is not necessarily the best way to serve our friends or our children. My boys need to see that I can be impulsive and extravagant in the way I choose to love and serve them. I need to throw caution to the wind and do things with them that are just fun. My generosity on their behalf should have a similar feel and look.
My friends need that quality as well. Part of being an aging father is walking with other dads during the good times and the times of excruciating pain too. I can’t fathom what Ryan’s father feels right now, but I am a father. A father of sons at that. Aging fathers with gray hair and gray beards need to forget this whole business of growing up. It is overrated. Instead… we need to be impulsive and crazy in the way we choose to serve the men that are journeying with us on this trek called fatherhood. No one can serve a father like another father. I am indeed an aging father, but I still refuse to grow up.