Today being Father's Day, I wanted my old pal John to tell me what kind of fatherly advice he might have for his 9-year-old son.
As Chad grows up, I wondered, which of your qualities would you wish for your son? And, more to the point, how would you want Chad to be different?
John's answer was quick.
"I want him to be as tall, but not as fat."
Then he laughed the laugh I'd heard a million times before.
John, John, John. He makes me laugh, he makes me sigh. Once upon a time, we were best friends. It was our sophomore year at Santa Ana High and we hit if off the day we met in Mr. Dyer's history class.
I was 15, John was 16. His parents gave him unlimited use of a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500. The Jet, John called it. We'd cruise all over town and cruise down to the Balboa Fun Zone. And when suffering from a condition we knew as "the munchies," we'd cruise to the Jack-in-the-Box.
John loved to have fun. He was a tall, athletic guy with red hair and freckles who played varsity basketball and varsity tennis. Maybe the coolest guy I knew. Not only did John have a car, but his parents let him have a water bed.
And John, unlike most of us, wasn't a virgin.
He was shameless. If a girl didn't think he was cute, John could make her change her mind. He was charming, funny, confident.
In time we drifted apart. I got busy with the school paper. He got busy with a girl named Martha. We were still friends, but there were tensions. There was something about John that I grew to dislike. Jealousy may have been part of it. But, looking back, I changed more than John.
In fact, the older we got, John became more John-like, single-minded in his pursuit of women and material success. After college, he entered the realm of finance. John was a Young Turk of the roaring '80s who helped establish a mortgage company and, by all appearances, did very well. He bought a home near the beach that was advertised as a "bachelor pad," its master bedroom outfitted with a fireplace, a wet bar, a sauna, a Jacuzzi. John showed up at our 10-year high school reunion in his own limo.
He was living his own fantasy. He'd dock the company yacht at a Newport Beach restaurant and set his sights on an attractive woman who, you never know, might need a loan to build some condos. "Want to go for a ride on my boat?" he'd ask.
Ten years ago, John had a fling with a woman. She was a friend of a friend. Call her Susan.
A few months later, John called Susan and suggested they get together. She said she couldn't--that she was involved with someone and it was serious.
When John later learned that Susan had a baby, the timing made him wonder. But John figured, no, he'd have heard from her by now. When their mutual friend showed John a picture of Susan's baby, John was startled how much little Chad resembled his own baby pictures.
Maybe Susan wasn't sure herself who the father was. She didn't say anything, John didn't ask. Besides, she had a new live-in boyfriend.
In time Susan started to call John out of the blue, just to chat. Sometimes she'd mention Chad, who had just turned 3. Finally, John raised the issue.
Susan didn't say yes and didn't say no. "Why don't you come over and meet him?" she said.
They certainly looked like father and son. And he was such a great kid--so kind, so bright, so affectionate. Now John was fairly certain he was a father. More importantly, John knew that he \o7 wanted \f7 to be this boy's dad. The ladies' man had fallen hard for a little boy.
John and Susan figured there was only one way to be sure: a blood test.
"She said if I was going to make a lifetime commitment, she doesn't want me to have any doubts," John explained. "And if you're going to make a lifetime commitment, it's best not to have any doubts."
John dearly hoped that the lab would confirm that Chad was his son.
"I prayed for it. Once you meet this kid, how could you not?"
The tests confirmed the obvious and a paternity agreement was finalized. John was grateful when Susan offered to add his family name to Chad's. The boy's birth certificate was modified and John and Susan agreed to terms for child support and a visitation schedule.
John figures that, all considered, Chad has fared better than the children of parents who go through a bitter divorce. "It's not like he knew me at home and then I disappeared. Later, he might get to a period of anger."
John didn't anticipate how comforting a son could be. When John and his associates crashed into hard times, when John's fantasy life disappeared, Chad could make him smile.
When Chad was 6, they arrived home together. The phone answering machine carried the voice of John's lady friend du jour, calling to cancel a date. Chad went into his room and returned a few minutes later with a card. On it was the drawing of a drawing of a heart and the inscription, "I love you dad."
John was touched. "I thought you might need that," Chad said.
"We're very tight," John says. "We have guy stuff. Like he can burp over here. He's not allowed to do that at his mom's."