In 1970, when I was twelve years old, I bought my very first record album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band, by the Beatles. I actually remember what I paid for it, too: $2.95. New. Those were the days. I didn't have a record player, though, so I had to listen to it on my mom's Magnavox console stereo. You can imagine one of those staid, ornate mahagony cabinets blaring out the words to songs like Lucy In the Sky, but what you imagine would not even come close to preparing you for the look on my mom's face when she heard it. She was not a fan of the Beatles, or any popular music, really, unless it was sung by the likes of Engelbert Humperdink or Wayne Newton. Later that same year I got my second record album: Abbey Road, also by the Beatles. By the end of the year I was paying $3.95 for a record. The Carter Years, obviously, were not far away.
The reason I mention all of this is because my own son has just turned twelve today, and for me turning twelve was something of a landmark, so I've been meditating quite a bit on my own passage into adolescence and the differences that I see between mine and my son's. He lives in a very different sort of world than the one I inhabited. By the time I was twelve, my father had been dead for five years, and my sister was married and had moved out of the house. My mother and I were living in a cheap apartment near Kent State University ($180 per month, I kid you not, for two bedrooms, two baths, and easy access to a largish swimming pool). My son lives with his father who is still alive (though just barely), his mother, and an adopted sister half his age in a large, though shabby, house on three beautiful wooded lots near Ohio University. He is getting the full-blown family life that I always longed for but never really had--until now. To be able to give my children the sort of life that I never had has been perhaps the greatest joy in my life, even when they bicker about things like who last touched the remote or who stuck her finger in the dog's eye on purpose. Watching them live and move and have their being in my company really is a foretaste of heaven, but it is tempered by the sad fact that all of this is passing away before my very eyes. It seems only yesterday he was a cute little four year old boy romping through those wooded lots playing his imaginary games--games he wouldn't dream of playing today. Soon the adolescent, too, will vanish, leaving me with a big stinky man just like me. And the little girl will grow up and disappear somewhere, too, leaving me alone again--though one hopes that one's spouse will still be around, but you know what I mean. Change is inevitable, and sometimes it can be painful even when joy-filled.
But some things really do stay the same. My son has a job delivering papers, and he used his own money to buy himself an iPod. The two very first things he loaded onto it: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.