Saturday, November 23, 2013

The LAST Movie Night

Photo: Kevin Roberts
 The LAST Movie Night

20 years — gone in a flash.
The guy who first said, "they 
grow up so fast," was genius.
And the day that I thought I'd 
never see, arrived today.
FYI, it kinda sucked, dude.

Some parents eagerly anticipate that day when their kids finally leave the nest. But not me. I've cherished being a dad.

Jesse was born on October 5, 1993. It was the greatest day of my life. And I can't imagine how a better father / son relationship even could be possible. I never had a lick of trouble with this kid. In fact, I don't recall anything other than wonderful experiences with my son. Despite a divorce, I've never lived more than 30 minutes away from my son, and in 20 years, hardly a day has passed when we didn't see each other or at least talk on the phone.

He's always been an overachiever — simultaneously earning his high school diploma and an AA degree in 2012. He's a budding musical genius and he consistently brought home the cutest girlfriends. That's my boy! 

It's been an incredible 20 years, all  filled with beautiful memories — like the time he rolled off my stomach as we napped together when he was an infant — plummeting head-first from the couch onto the floor. HOLY **** — I'd broken the baby! Clearly, we both survived. And then there was the landmark day in 1996 when he first recited the names of all four KISS members — a proud moment for any parent, right? 

I also vividly recall the image of Jesse at age five, standing at my mom's bedside in the hospital — holding her hand just before she died. She loved that kid SO much.

We walked up the sidewalk together on his first day of kindergarten in 1999 and we ran together "O.J.-style" through O'Hare in 2002 — rushing to catch our flight while on one of our summer adventures.

From MLB spring training games to the action of the NBA, we also enjoyed taking in numerous sporting events. We even saw Lebron James play during his first pro season.

Be sure, parenting hasn't always been a cakewalk. It was heartbreaking to hear Jesse's voice the night he called me, filled with anxieties following his first day of junior high. He needed me and I was 1,000 miles from home, on tour working for a world-famous rock band. But the look on his face was priceless as he chilled in his personal bunk on the tour bus when he joined me on the road for a couple of days a few weeks later.

I hated having to "play" disciplinarian — like the time in 2006 when he got into trouble for stirring up mischief at school and I revoked his MySpace privileges (for about five minutes).

Regrettably, during his early teens (when he likely needed my attention most), I became sidetracked — consumed by seeking such professional endeavors as touring, managing teenage pop star hopefuls and moguling book deals. I missed out on a lot — I regret those choices now. And no money can buy back the one thing I want most — another "little guy" day with my son.

Jesse (L) with his band, The Ellers, in 2010.
(Photo: Kevin Roberts)
Most parents are delighted when their kids follow in their footsteps. But I was horrified the day Jesse confessed to me his desire to play music. YIKES — anything but that! Gee whiz, son — couldn't you pursue something more stable and respectable — like a crack dealer? But I didn't want my kid to be a hack like me, so I immediately put him in private lessons with the area's top drum instructor. I sold my drums in order to buy him his own custom kit. And overnight, he became a virtuoso. Today, he's also a songwriter and a proficient guitarist. But I'll be honest, despite my trepidation regarding Jesse gravitating towards music, watching him perform a few years ago in his first band was pretty cool.

From getting his driver's license to homecomings, proms and finally graduation, Jesse's high school experience was action-packed. But like the other seasons of his life, those days also came and went — in a flash.

I remember last Christmas — Jess made me a most excellent gift — one of his infamous mix CDs, featuring many of my favorite bands: Cheap TrickEverclear, Fountains of Wayne and more. That one stayed in the deck forever!

Last January, Jesse and I traveled together on a week-long southeast tour as I promoted my latest book, C'MON! With book signings, it's hit and miss. Some nights are good while others are, well, not so much — as was the case with my 2013 trek. From Orlando, Florida to Chattanooga, Tennessee we went from blasting the AC in the rental van to freezing our nards off. And it was (for me) one of our all-time best father and son adventures. I didn't know that it would be our last. 

Me and Jesse in Macon, GA while on tour in 2013.
Over the summer, we drove to Orlando for the Crash Kings concert. During our conversation on the ride home, it all became crystal clear. At 19, Jesse was becoming restless and growing disillusioned about still being "stuck" in his small hometown while most of his high school friends were now out on their own, "doing life." I knew deep down after that night how this story likely was going to play out — my kid was getting ready to leave the nest. And before long, he was making plans to relocate to Colorado with his former bandmate, Livingston.

Yes, our time together always been special and personal. Our father and son nights typically all have been marked by going to dinner, then a walk through the neighborhood (often to the ice cream store) and then to the movies. Since the early days of going to see Good Burger at the dollar theater, Jesse has been passionate about movies. Even on the nights that we didn't go out to the movies, we'd at least rent one. And this past week, as he prepared to leave for Colorado, we went on our last walk together and kicked back on the couch to watch our last movie.

Celebrating Jesse's 20th birthday in 2013.

Jesse turned 20 a few weeks ago. And the whole family was there to celebrate — me, my dad and my kid. But a  few days from now, on December 6, I'll be turning 51 and we'll all be scattered. Jesse will be in Colorado, my dad will be in Florida, I'll be battling Satan in the jungles of Nicaragua — and my mom will be watching over us all from heaven, 'cuz that's where angels go.

The exciting thing about life is that we never know what the future has in store. Maybe Jesse will just do college — earn a fancy degree and cure cancer. Maybe he'll discover that next million-dollar-making widget. Maybe he'll compose and record the next "Abbey Road." But whatever he sets his sights on, the results WILL be epic.

I love my son — my only child. Now in my 50s, I'm an old man — a "veg." But Jesse has his whole life in front of him — a life filled with unlimited possibilities. I'm jealous, son. Now go knock 'em dead, kid. But never forget, I'm always just a phone call away.

You may be asking, what was our last movie? Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets from 1973, starring a very young Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Fugetaboutit.

-Christopher Long
(November 2013)

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