Just over 21 years ago, in an extraordinary flash of reproductive coincidence, my best friend and I bore witness to our respective wives giving birth to two children, 200 miles and a mere few hours apart. I realize this sounds a little like the beginning of a very cheesy (or brilliant!) novel, but in fact it is a tribute to a lifelong bond. This friend (we’ll call him Steve) and I were roommates in L.A. and then New York City, for many years. We made all sorts of [mostly] innocent trouble and then as boys are wont to do, we wed, moved apart and started our families. Any woman wondering when boys become men? Yup, it’s the day we become fathers.
Because our lives took us to separate states and ultimately, continents, our friendship had to remain intact over many miles, which led to the beginning of what I believe is close to 20 family vacations together. Paris, Biarritz, the Loire Valley, Tuscany, Martha’s Vineyard, the Delaware Shore – wherever we could find a large enough home we could afford with a beach, a grill and a view. As a result, our children, in fact, grew up together. Our bond is theirs. As they grew older, if we missed a summer, the kids were asking why.
Those babies are in college now, and have jobs and partners – which leads me to a recent midnight knock at the door of my Brooklyn flat. Steve’s daughter, with the beautiful and unlikely name of Tika, was visiting the States from London where she lives and goes to school. She and her boyfriend were staying with me for a week!
The birth of your children is one benchmark. Discovering they have become young adults is a distinctly different other! I have known Tika and her older brother, Jack, since Day One. And while I adore her infectiously rambunctious sib, like my own two sons, he is a boy. Tika is not. As a result, even without the benefit of having a girl, I’ve had the joy of borrowing a daughter and watching her grow up.
Our August weeks at Bethany Beach, Delaware were the hallmark of their adolescence. While the boys were testing out cracking voices and newfound muscles, Tika was quietly asserting herself. She was more than capable of keeping up with the guys, but she had a quiet solitude about her that suggested something more was going on. While the boys were murdering one another on video games, she was prone to reading, journaling, and taking pictures. When she’d disappear for an hour or two into herself, you could tell our boys were missing her. We boys always do. Girls are the rocket fuel for our developing adolescent energy.
We managed to stage one more family va-kay at Bethany Beach while the kids were drifting toward college. It was more reminisce than donnybrook. No more diving for pennies at Kid’s Play Time in the pool. No need to slather on the Coppertone before we plunked them under the beach umbrella. The trip to the boardwalk at Rehoboth was replaced by cocktail hour on the sand. They had become grownups.
I took Tika, Jack and her boyfriend out for dinner the other night in New York City. We scarfed down membranously thin and sumptuous dumplings in chili sauce and drank our Tsingtao beers. Jack is a banker now. Tika is studying paleontology. Or archealogy. Or was it communications? Her boyfriend is a Brit, and chatty and nice. He walked from Berlin to Serbia once, for fun. I mostly sat and listened. When the check came, the place was cash only so I could not foist a card to pick up the tab. We all laid down our twenties and headed to the street. Jack had to be up in the morning. Tika and her beau headed off to hear jazz in the Village. I rode home alone on the F train, same as it was 21 years ago, before there were kids. I returned to an empty apartment with a full heart and thumbed through a few old pictures. The kids were alright, and from the looks of it, we’d done okay. I duly reported back to Steve. I poured a nightcap. And I thought about how fleeting it all was.