Brothers enjoy a fishing outing. Photo by Mark Kennedy

In the space of five days last week, our older son, now 18, became an adult and our younger son, now 13, became a teenager. I'm calling this phenomenon the "fraternal equinox."

I don't notice any big changes yet. Basically, they act the same.

Our older son, although technically an adult, doesn't have any real adult problems. For example, his biggest worry this week is that the orthopaedic boot on his right foot — from a minor surgery on his big toe — will make his left-foot sneakers wear unevenly.


Meanwhile, in his first week as a teenager, our younger son was waiting to hear back from friends, including a couple of girls, he's invited to go on a trip to Six Flags. This, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of thing teenagers worry about. Roller coasters and possible rejection are both guaranteed to give you butterflies.

Meanwhile, as usual, I have found the birthdays to be a time of reflection and heavy sighs.

I almost got choked up last Sunday in Northgate Mall as I walked by the big, under-glass electric train set that hasn't moved in a generation. It reminded me of when our older son was a toddler and used to beg me for quarters to activate the train. He was a big Thomas the Tank Engine fan.

"Gaggy," he would say, "can I peas have a quarter?"

Now, his legs are a mile long and he has to bend over to hug me.

I also looked wistfully at the kids' corral, the little fenced-in area with carpet and rubbery climbing toys. Over to the right was a father trying to coax his daughter from one automated kiddie ride to another, because it costs a quarter less. Been there.

"Oh well," I thought, "Buck up, now, there's always the chance of having grandkids someday."

Later that night, I got a lift when our younger son climbed beside me in bed while I was streaming a TV show on Amazon Prime. He explained that he had a social-studies project due in four days and needed some help. With that he handed me his laptop, and we looked at the options.

I could see panic begin to cross his 13-year-old face when I reminded him that he had after-school commitments every night of the week.

"Relax," I said. "We've got this."

Together we decided that his best option was making a time capsule using family artifacts, a project that would also involve interviewing someone older in the family.

"How about me?" I said. "I'm old."

He nodded in agreement. "Hard to argue with that," I imagined him thinking.

Immediately, we began walking around the house looking for family artifacts. It was fun. We found a watercolor painting of my maternal grandfather's country store in Maury County, Tennessee, a folded flag that was draped over my father's coffin in 1993, a hunting knife our younger son's maternal grandfather gave him and a family quilt with the names of all his immediate relatives sewn together by my wife's mother.

Then, we sat down for an interview with a voice recorder. He took notes.

I told him about my mom playing outside her father's country store. "Her father was 60 years old when she was born," I said. "And my mom died about a year before you were born."

I explained that my dad's flag was a symbol of his service in the Korean War. "Son, both my parents died before you were born," I summarized, as if it was just an incidental fact to remember for his presentation.

In reality, it's one of my biggest regrets that my parents didn't live to see this shining, smiling little boy.

Later, at bedtime, we said our prayers together and I rubbed his close-cropped hair and kissed his forehead.

I may not live to see grandkids, I know that. Better to live in the here and now, in the precious present — and appreciate those tender moments that sear into a parent's soul. Now and forever, like a flag over a coffin.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.