Graduation Night

My family threw a party the day I graduated from high school. It’s was just an open house. Our extended family was there, but what I really hoped for was to have a bunch of my friends from high school there. Not a lot of them showed up.

The trick is that there were probably fifteen other parties, and so everybody is going from place to place, and that was that.

We had a keg (this was back when you could get your friends drunk at these parties–now you can’t) but no one to drink it. My extended family was more into booze than draft beer. So as the evening wound down and still no crowd, one of my older brothers suggested that we, the two of us, try to drain that keg before morning.

Our house was small, but behind the detached garage there was an enclosed patio. In summer we would sleep there often, and this was where the keg was placed. So we sat on either side of the keg and stared at the trees and shrubs out back as we drank.

In the middle of the night, my father came out to check on us. He pulled up a chair and joined us.

My father flew F-86 jets for the Air Force in the 1950s. So he had quite a few stories, and he told a couple of doozies that night. He was stationed in Europe, and was the wingman for a larger-than-life character that led him on great adventures in France and West Germany. (Those stories will have to wait for their own blog entry.) As the stories wound down, he got a bit reflective and philosophical, and gave us the following advice.

You’ll probably get married someday, and when you do, you’ll be faced with morale choices. You’ll have to decide for yourself about staying faithful to your wife, and how you raise your family.

We didn’t say anything after that. It was dark, almost pitch black, and we were still drinking and probably half-drunk. I thought there was maybe something else he wanted to say, but I didn’t know how to probe that subject, or how to ask an appropriate follow-up question. So it just stayed exactly how it was: an enigmatic riddle with no answer. He said, “Good night boys,” and then left us in the dark.

I was the youngest, and I had just graduated. In my egocentricity, I had thought that the day was all about me. But it dawns on me now, right this moment as I type, that perhaps he was reflecting on his own life, rather than helping us shape what we might become.

He had gotten his youngest son to manhood and, strictly speaking, he was no longer obligated to do a damn thing for us. That former jet pilot was beholden to no one at that moment. He had done what nature intended: he procreated three boys, got them to adulthood, and his part in the circle of life was over.

I don’t know if he was elated and relieved, or full of dread and regret. I don’t know if he wished he had done things differently. I don’t know if he wanted to chuck it all and start a new life, or if this was everything he ever hoped for in life. I just don’t know.

My brother and I kept drinking until dawn. We didn’t talk about what Dad said. In fact, I don’t remember anything we talked about that night except what Dad said. If my brother reminds me of something else, I’ll add it here, but I just remember the dark, and the stupidity of drinking cold beer on a cold summer night just for the sake of drinking it. I assume we had some music playing (there was an eight-track tape player in the patio) but maybe not.

We faced west, and so the trees began to show light at the top as dawn crested behind us. We did not finish the keg, but we put a world of hurt on it. We left the patio, peed one last time on the shrubs, and made our way to the house.

And thus my adult life began.