Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Son, the Hobo

School is beginning next week. Whether your child is entering kindergarten, his senior year of high school or her junior year of college, your thoughts most likely follow this track: “Oh! What will he/she be when they ‘grow up’?” Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?

My son? My 22-year-old son with his valedictorian trimmed Bachelor of Arts? Well, he’s a hobo!

According to Kenny, “a hobo is defined as a migratory worker who likes to travel, a tramp travels without working, and a bum does not travel or work.” His self-proclaimed “Hobo Lifestyle 2.0” is for enjoying. As he says on his website for the chronicles of this adventure, “I intend to do that (enjoy), and experience as much as I can. Right now I have some cool ideas I've gotten started on, and none of them require me to physically be somewhere. Perfect. Now it's time to be everywhere…”

Ah, it’s every parent’s dream, right? Wait, let me adjust my aneurysm.

The kid had a full-time job for two years (he earned his B.A. in two years in an intensive, year ‘round accredited college). He has student loan payments, plus cell phone charges, and had rent and utilities and food to pay for before embarking on the hobo life earlier this summer. He had been making extra money recording demos for musicians out of his apartment in New York, and a teeny wee bit of cash on two separate web businesses which are still not completely up on the scale they need to be for, say, Google to come a ‘calling with their billions of dollars.

And now he literally carries his life on his back. There is no plan. It’s just a Jack Kerouac kind of escapade. Did I mention the lack of income? The lack of funding from his parents? The student loan payments?

When I shipped him off to kindergarten 17 years ago, he waved from behind his Teenage Ninja Turtle back pack, his smile big, bold and full of promise. Two weeks ago I left him at the Whitefish, Montana train depot, and he waved from behind his four-foot-high North Face pack, sleeping bag dangling from the side, with a smile, big, bold and full of promise. I failed miserably at not looking miserable, wildly wiping tears off my face, not unlike that clear, cool September morning of his kindergarten inauguration. Oh for crying out load (literally); why am I letting him just go like that?!

The answer: because I really have no choice.

We all need to find ourselves. Many of us do it while struggling through that first pay-your-dues job after high school or college. Some of us don’t find ourselves or our professional passion until middle age. And a few of us – like Kenny – need to literally travel in and around ourselves and our surroundings to hit upon our essence.

The good news? He has a decent and solid education under his frayed, hobo belt; he was born with a keen intelligence and a craftily creative streak. The Weston and New Canaan school systems laid the foundation and the basics. Now nature will take its course.

Our kids can be anything they want to be and sometimes what we guide them to be as well. As they board that school bus next week, please know that their journey will actually go beyond easy-readers and fractions and colonial times and chemistry. We and their teachers are the conduits on their educational, professional, social and personal quest.

And because it can be a survival of the fittest, I suggest packing them a can of bear mace, too. Kenny has his at the ready.

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