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Happy Birthday Son

December 13, 2019

I’d like to take this opportunity to publically wish my son a happy birthday, although we haven’t spoken in many years. That seems like a strange statement on the surface, so let me explain.

Forty-nine years ago, I was a first-time father. I remember those tiny eyes looking up to me, perhaps for hope. At that moment it never crossed my mind that soon I would be a single father raising a small child. Fate is funny.

My son was the love of my life. I put aside so many things in order to raise him properly by myself. I considered it my mission and I was undeterred. The years went by. When he was still very small, I remember making a small book out of construction paper. It taught my son the basic numbers, alphabet and storytelling. Life moved forward in its unpredictable currents. I was active in his Cub Scout pack and a coach for his T-Ball games. At the same time, I struggled a bit with my career as it always seemed to have come down to my son or “them.” I chose my son.

To about the age of 14, my son seemed to genuinely like me, probably even love me. Even after I married again, he seemed a part of the family. He was happy. I was happy. Then darkness set in. His birth mother had re-entered his life and things changed. Happy nights were slowly replaced by distance and rebukements. His orbit had changed. Finally he went to live with his mother as I was perceived as too strict, not “cool” and intolerant of drugs. What can I say? I was raised in the 1950’s.

Although he came back to live with me and my wife, things got worse and even heated at times. As though to punish me, he finally said, “I’ve enlisted in the Army!” I said that would be great. Maybe the drill sergeant wouldn’t put up with him not making his bed. He left. I cried. He became a soldier and an Airborne Ranger. I was proud. He was defiant. We sort of trickled back towards one another though. It felt better.

My son called me out of the blue on a Wednesday and asked if I would like to attend his wedding on Saturday in far away Chicago. Obviously, it was a last minute thought. I said yes and boarded a plane for Chicago and meet his most wonderful bride and family. I was relieved. However, the marriage lasted less than a year and he became lost once again in Reno, Nevada in the shadow of his mother. His life became a swirl of bad jobs and too much drinking. What to do? I waited for reason to set in. It never did.

The periods of non-contact lengthened. I knew very little of his life other than there was an obvious problem with drugs and drinking. Where had I gone so wrong? He didn’t learn this behavior from me. He called me up once years ago out of the blue and asked me for $9,000. What? I pointed out that I knew nothing of his current situation and I refused. He got the loan from his grandmother and wound up stiffing her. Was I wrong?

My son finally got bored with his mother’s dominance and dead-end life in Reno and struck-out to find a new life in North Carolina. His life seemed to have turned around.  I returned to that same state from Italy where I’d been living for years to try to resurrect a relationship. At first, there was a glimmer. Some of the old spark was there… or was it? I finally relocated from Italy to North Carolina for unrelated personal reasons. My wife and I had grown tired of Italy and wanted to reconnect with our life in the United States. Things between me and my son seemed hopeful. We were laughing; we were both trying to heal a gaping wound. But there was always an uneasy undercurrent to our relationship.

I watched somewhat hopelessly as my son hobbled between new relationships. He once asked us to join him for dinner and I was surprised to see a different girlfriend than the one we had met a week before. I sighed, knowing that it had also been difficult for me to find my true compass bearing when I was younger. I tried being patient. I hoped and prayed. It never really works.

My son had had a daughter with his first wife. As she grew older, she became more and more like her father: Defiant, smug and casting aspersions at everyone in the word except, of course, for that visage in the mirror. We tried to love her but in the end she deemed us too square. My son was now a single parent himself. Parents are often only onlookers. I’d been there before with in dealing with my own parents. They didn’t approve of my being a single parent and I fiercely defended my son to them. While I supported my son’s efforts at parenting, I also tried to caution him of the pitfalls that I had encountered years earlier. All in all, we seemed to be rebuilding a solid relationship at the time.

Then about ten years ago, something strange happened. I find it hard to recall the exact sequence but it went something like this: My son and his daughter were over for dinner. There was more than the usual certain tension in the air. Our granddaughter was snotty as usual but we parted company pleasantly. He called about a month later two days before Thanksgiving and wanted to know if my wife and I would like to come to dinner with him, our granddaughter and my ex-wife. We honestly had already made plans as we hadn’t heard from him. The notice was simply too short and I had to decline. Besides, a Thanksgiving dinner is not something that my wife and I wanted to do with an ex-spouse. We had Christmas dinner together but something had changed. We then had another dinner together at our house. Everything seemed good enough. Then Boom! The end of the word had commenced. After not hearing from him for another month, I called him and said we should get together soon. I haven’t heard a word from him since.

In the intervening years, he has remarried yet again and has a new child, a son whom we’ve never met. We sent presents for the new baby but received no communication from my son, just a short note of thanks from the new wife. We have never met her as well. I tried a few phone calls but he always hung-up on me. To say I was hurt is an understatement but what can one do in the end? I accept the un-understandable. I haven’t heard a word from the other end: No reasons, no explanations, no excuses, no nothing.

I have moved on as one must. In the interim, I had a stroke and two surgeries. I doubt that my son knows or would even care. Things are now that separated between us. Finally, for reasons of financial common sense I reluctantly removed him from our wills, leaving an unknown grandson as the beneficiary of my intellectual properties and the rest to St. Jude. Completely gone is the relationship and love I worked so hard to fulfill.

However, in the corners of each night I think about a little boy whom I loved so much and an adult whom I never had the chance to understand. Today, December 13th has rolled-around once again. In the end, all I can do is say, “Happy Birthday son!” from a light year away and wish for him the peace in his life that I have not known in mine.

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13 Comments
  1. This is so poignant. I also have one son, born December 13, a Friday the 13th (1974), as is today. He married late, so our only grandchild isn’t even 3 yet. They live in the Twin Cities and we don’t see them often. Having adult children means waiting on what they need, isn’t it? I don’t play chess, but perhaps it’s kind of like that. Just love ’em and pray for them, Allen.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It is good to put our thoughts down in writing; we see things we may have missed. Love never really goes away, the haunting melody of those we love and do not see, remains. I hear this melody in your writing. You love your son, and that is good. Love is always a good thing even when it does not feel so good. We do not always understand our beloveds; there is peace in acceptance; there is peace in knowing that we did the very best we could. Then, all we can do is turn it over to God. We cannot fix all the broken places in our hearts. But when we give our broken hearts to God, He listens. He cares. We ask Him to help us live with the things we do not understand; we keep on loving, anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. And that’s the only thing we can do ..
    We gave them life, they have free will, chosen fans, there are dynamics unknown to us, but the important thing is to be there when a son decides to return

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Allen, your love and concern shines through. It is hard to fathom when those we love choose to remain distant or cut themselves off. It sounds like you did your very best to give him a solid foundation. I am also saddened by such disconnections in my life and always hope for change, but never with any expectation. My father has become a little more communicative in recent years, but still very distant (emotionally and physically). I’ve only seen him 3 or 4 times in the past two decades. My niece and her mother also chose disconnection. I don’t understand it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. KiM permalink

    With tears in my eyes I write this, Families can be hard, and as you know, the only person you can change is yourself, but it still hurts when all you want for someone is the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Array permalink

    Seriously, Allen? Your granddaughter isn’t snotty, she is beautiful and smart. I’m sorry you didn’t recognize the beauty of your world when it was in front of you. Really take care

    Like

    • Whoever you are, troll, spammer or unidentified “family” member, you missed the entire point of this article. Obviously reading is not high on your skill set. Es tut mir ganz leid!

      Like

      • Unbelievable

        Like

      • The fact that you feel you need to hide behind fake identities while using the same IP address tells me who you are “M.” Sorry you are that insecure about yourself. Good luck with that….

        Like

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