My son Charlie and I spent some quality time together in the months before he was born.
I lugged him with me in utero on a 90-mile commute to my job and he often thanked me for my hospitality by generously tossing my breakfast back up to me as we hurtled down I-55. I kept plastic bags in the car for the occasion, which I regularly deposited in a garbage can outside the Streator Times-Press offices when I arrived.
Still, I remember the exact moment I understood how incredibly cool the eternal gift of Charlie would be.
It happened as I sat in a booth at Oogies Restaurant, idly munching on the Oogies Special (hamburger, fries and coleslaw). I had the table to myself and I felt a little lonely as the lunch crowd chattered around me. But, I remember looking down at my very pregnant belly and getting so excited to meet the little person within.
“You and me, kid,” I said. “We’re going to have so much fun!”
And we have.
Today, on Charlie’s 33rd birthday, we have 33,000 reasons to celebrate, enough to stretch all the way from our house in Wisconsin to New Jersey, where Charlie has been quarantining with his fiancé Tara and her family.
From a happy, energetic baby who gamely and endlessly entertained us, Charlie has grown into a thoughtful, admirable man. Like many in his generation, he consumes information voraciously — reading books, listening to podcasts and watching documentaries. But, he also allows himself time to ponder and this indulgence gives his conversations authenticity and depth.
I know this because I speak with him several times a week, often as we are both walking similar (though 943-mile distant) routes.
I have a theory that men like Charlie, his father and grandfathers, who quickly grow tall and broad, are keenly aware of the space they take up in the world and therefore more empathetic. They learn to shift just a little to better someone else’s view. I know this for sure about Charlie. He has taught us all that humility equals strength and self-reflection courage.
Happy birthday Charlie and thank you for being my friend.