Eighteen years ago – almost to the day – my wife and I were at the hospital awaiting the birth of our second child. It was one of the greatest days of my life and one of the scariest. He was born on Monday, June 4, at 8:08 am. They say Monday’s child is fair of face and Thomas Harrison St. John had a lot of face. He weighed in at 11 pounds, 11 ounces, two weeks early. He was a hoss.
He was also purple. Not that reddish-purple that babies turn when they are mad and crying, but Barney the Dinosaur purple, a scary bluish-purple from head to toe. The color was due to a lack of oxygen in his body. His lungs were partially filled with fluid and they couldn’t distribute oxygen to other parts of his body.
As they pulled him from his mother, the neonatologist called me over to wipe him down. They placed him on a small table in the corner of the operating room. He was taking short staccato breaths. I was frightened and praying frantically.
The first four hours of my son’s life were the most stressful I have ever endured. The nurses took him to the nursery and placed him under a contraption that looked like a large plastic Tupperware cake cover. He was force-fed humidified oxygen for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually, he began breathing normally and on his own. He was no longer purple, although he was still big. Very big, very healthy and pink. He was my big pink hoss.
My father died when I was very young and, at an early age, I looked forward to becoming a dad. My daughter made that dream come true four years before the boy was born. She was a cakewalk – a 4-year old going on 40. He was a handful for the first 14 years of his life but seemed to mature quickly into his late teens.
The boy and I share a few common interests – movies, music, football and breakfast. We have eaten breakfast together all over the world, and several times a week before school since his kindergarten days.
He has now taken his final high-school exam. Our breakfasts will be less frequent and more sporadic, if at all, though he assures me we will always eat breakfast together when possible. His mom and I are desperately searching for the parental rewind button. There isn’t one.
In a few days, he will don a cap and gown and receive a high school diploma in the same gymnasium where his sister received her’s. The advice I will give him is much the same as I gave her:
Son, there are two, seemingly unconventional, routes to success in your upcoming professional and personal life – through passion and fun. Professional life decisions should be the easiest decisions you’ll ever make. A career should be about one thing – passion.
It took the first 20 years I spent on this planet to find my passion. But once I did, my career path was set. The minute I started working in restaurants I fell in love with the industry. I knew that was what I was “supposed” to do. A few years ago, you and I were riding in the car. You said, “Dad, what should I do when I grow up?” I thought for a minute and then said, “Son, whatever it is, don’t follow the money, follow your passion.”
Someone once said, “Do what you love to do for a career and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That is passion. It’s true. I do my hobby and I get paid for it. That is what I want for you. Success follows passion, every time.
The second piece of advice is about fun. Go out and have fun. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. But it’s got to be the right kind of fun, and it’s got to come from the right kind of places.
After I graduated high school, I looked for fun in a lot of the wrong places. It was around the time you were born that the 40-year-old me figured out what life is all about – faith, family, friends, food and fun. Those things, in that order, are what lead to a full, fruitful, joy-filled and productive life.
Harrison, befriend the underdog. Laugh a lot. Make others laugh a lot. Visit a nursing home. Make them laugh a lot. Hug your parents long and hard. Hug them so long that they’re the ones who let go first. Hug your teacher. Seriously, as soon as your commencement is over, go over to your favorite teacher and give him or her a big hug. Thank them. If you don’t appreciate them today, I promise you that you will in the near future. Hug the teacher you liked least, too.
Eat french fries. Be nice. Be bold. Behave. Spend time with your grandparents. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor’s neighbor. Make mistakes. Then don’t sweat the mistakes you make. Go out and make more mistakes. Forgive others for their mistakes. Floss every day. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so hard on others.
Volunteer where you feel led. Don’t just “give back.” Just “give,” then give some more. Give of your time, give of your resources and give your love. When you think you’ve given enough, then give some more.
Find your passion. Make that your career. Then go be passionate. Have fun, laugh, help others, and eat breakfast with your dad every chance you get.