Last week, I took our 17-year-old son in for a routine blood test. Walking into the outpatient clinic, the thought hit me: This might be the last time I'll do this.
A high school senior who will turn 18 years old late next month, our son will no longer technically require a parent to come along on doctor visits. He is 6-1, after all.
"It's funny," he said as I held open the door of the clinic, "one day you need a parent with you, and the next day you don't."
"I know," I said, feeling a small cloud of dread pass across the sun. Any time I fixate on his impending adulthood, I feel a mix of pride and sadness. I lean toward melancholy, so I try not to dwell.
For 17-plus years, taking him for doctor visits has been one of the sober responsibilities of parenthood. I was 43 when he was born, and I remember thinking, "Can I do this? Can I learn to be a dad at 43?" Then, as a practicing parent, you learn that 90% of the job is just dealing with the moment.
Thinking back across the years, I remembered the time I took him to the pediatrician to remove deck splinters from his feet — not fun. This was back when he was little and still called me "Gaggy."
But I also remembered the time his mom and I thought he was going deaf from a hard soccer header, and it turned out that he'd just dislodged a gob of ear wax.
And I'll never forget the time he was about to go under for jaw surgery, and he thought the pulse oximeter was a chicken nibbling at his finger.
Once inside the clinic last week, my son and I settled into facing chairs in the waiting room. Then, we automatically reached for our phones like cowboys drawing their pistols. I tried to show him a little movie of his sports highlights I had made for him on my phone. He watched politely and then handed me back the phone.
After a few minutes, a couple came in and took seats in the waiting room. The man looked about my age. We exchanged nods.
"Are you Mark Kennedy?" he said after a few minutes had passed.
"Yes," I answered.
"From the newspaper?" he asked.
"Yes, that's right," I said, smiling.
I always tense up when this happens. Working in the media, you never know if people are about to give you a compliment or throw some shade.
"We read your columns," the man said. "Is this one of the boys you write about?"
"Yes, it is," I said, beaming.
The reader and I went on to have a nice chat. We talked about how parenthood is the same whether you write about it in the paper or not. Later, as my son and I walked out of the clinic, I thanked the man for reading the Times Free Press.
"It's people like you you who provide our daily bread," I said, shaking his hand warmly. "It means a lot."
In the parking lot, my son, clearly amused, asked, "Does that happen to you a lot?"
"All the time," I said, jokingly. "You just aren't around me very much. I'm really famous."
"It's just that your picture in the paper is so small," he said, scratching his head.
"Remember I've been doing this for about 30 years," I continued.
What he failed to notice, and I neglected to point out, was that I had a work ID around my neck that read: Mark Kennedy, Times Free Press.
I patted my son on the back, and we went our separate ways in different cars.
A few minutes later, he suddenly pulled up beside me on McCallie Avenue. I waved discreetly. And then, just as quickly, he disappeared into the rush-hour traffic.
I'm gonna miss that kid.
He cried when I cut the umbilical cord. This time when I cut him loose, it will be the other way around.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.