From Boys to Men

On my cellphone, under contacts, is a listing labeled “boys.”

The contact is an artifact of 10 years ago when my sons got a cellphone for emergencies. It was a flip phone that they shared since they both went to the same school.

Then they were ages 12 and 7.

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Today, of course, they are each outfitted with their own smartphones, in which they tweet, text, Facebook, Skype and engage in all manner of communications.

I have kept the entry “boys” as my contact for my oldest son even though it is hopelessly out of date.

He is no longer a boy but a young man on the cusp of graduating college and embarking on a career and life that will involve less and less of me and my wife.

Up to about five years ago, I felt that time was accelerating like a sled going down a steep hill but that time for my sons was moving at a languid pace.

Now, the pages in the chapters of their lives are flipping forward furiously like what you see in the opening credits of “Masterpiece Theater.” And the pace of my life suddenly feels like a leisurely thumbing through the pages of the newspaper.

In the second to last episode of this season’s “Downton Abbey,” Mary, the oldest daughter, remarks on the sweeping  changes taking place in the household.

Though Mary was commenting on a fictional setting, she might well have been talking about real life.

In the early years, your role as a dad is defined around the waking hours of your kids: Breakfast, school, after school, dinner, bedtime, leisure time, weekend trips, time spent visiting with family, etc.

And then, one day, you discover that managing those activities has been taken away from you. Your kids have become self-actualized.

For me, the change is marked by the morning ritual of getting them to the school bus stop.

Ten years ago, when we first moved to our house and a new school district, I stood and waited with them for the bus.

Then it became just bringing them to the stop, minus waiting for the bus.

Then it became them piling out of the car, saying so long to me and me driving off.

And now? The oldest is at college and the youngest, a high school junior, is driving himself to school — in his own car.

The transition from needed dad to dad as optional accessory has left me feeling bereft. In the vacuum that has been created, what’s next?

That uncertainty is scary because now I have more time (and psychic space) to find out more about myself and who I am supposed to be in this next phase of my life.

My wife described it as parenting as planned obsolescence.

If you do your job right, you are no longer strictly defined as being a dad, although, of course, you still hold that title no matter how old your kids get. It’s just that how the role is defined is dramatically different.

Perhaps in recognition of this, the first thing I should do is change the entry on my phone contacts from “boys” to “men.”