I got into the truck and drove him to his friends house. He got out as I waited. A few minutes later, he returned to say Carl was still in the shower. He got back in the truck and we waited. We had small talk of nothing important. Then I told him I was proud of him. Carl came out and got in the car apologizing for running late and we were off to the stadium. I dropped them off, watched them walk into the school, and went home to get the rest of the family.
I stood as he walked by, in his red gown with the white 2009 sash. My eyes welled. This tall kid was the same kid that I used to pick up from head-start in the Med-Mart van. The same little blond kid that would run up to me and hug my legs when I would come in the door after work every day saying "Daddy's home!" I felt the limp as he turned and entered the row to find his seat. When I heard his name called I felt an amazing amount of pride, sadness, and time lost.
I found him in the sea of people, everyone of them smiling and laughing, congratulating each other on the end of this long journey. Our eyes met. My tears started to flow. He reached for me as I reached for him. We held each other for a brief moment. My mind raced back to my first memory of hearing his heart beat at the first ultra sound. The joy of seeing him born. All the games of catch we played. The time we played hooky to go to the beach and surf. I missed his mother in that moment and wondered if she could see him now. Then the embrace ended. There were more people to hug, and accept congratulations from. The rest of his family and friends deserved that time too. I stepped back and watched.
He greeted his friends as if they all had just won the Super Bowl. Many were ROTC members, both past and present. Some were joining the military in just a few short months and I couldn't help but wonder if they would ever all be together again. I watched as he enjoyed his brief fame. Then it hit me. This isn't the little boy anymore. As I watched him, I realized he will be able to handle anything that he comes up against. At that moment, I realized that Archie Glenn Smith...was a man!
I hear from many people that I did a great job of raising him. I did my best, but it wasn't all me. His mother, Debbie, was a very good mother to him. She was there taking him to head-start, staying for class to help out, taking him to church most Sundays. Then after she got sick, my mother stepped in. She was, and still is, always there for him. Attending cub scouts, school shows, never missing a Christmas morning and always having a soda or candy ready when he came over. Suzie and Jay were also wonderful support, babysitting, always there at birthday parties and filling in blanks that Debbie's illness may have left. And then there is Yvette. I truly believe that God sent her into my life to make sure my children have the best mother they could have had after Debbie's death. She does an awesome job walking the line of being "mom" while never making them feel as if Debbie never existed. She is the reason that my children are as they are. Without her, I would have imploded. She truly is their "mom".
Then there is Archie himself. Ultimately he is responsible for what he accomplished. He did a wonderful job at growing up. That may sound silly, but he stayed away from the distractions and put himself in the position he is in now. This summer he begins the next chapter in his life. He starts college then he plans to serve this country in the United States Army. Where ever he goes, what ever he does,he will always be my son. My first born, my oldest boy, and I will always love my son