It’s no wonder the song sticks with me. The timing and the title hit me right where I Iive. Released in June 1975, the same month I left home, a week after graduating high school, six months before my 18th birthday. Over the years, ‘That’s the Way of the World’ by Earth Wind & Fire sort of defaulted to a personal theme song. Like my father before me, I took pride in making my own way.
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl.
In my haste to escape a domineering father, a pair of high school chums and I moved across town into a swinging bachelor pad and proceeded with wanton abandon, to fulfill what I perceived society expected of me at that age.
During the last five years, I’ve invested a lot of time, burned a lot of energy, and climbed high on the Matson family tree. Since some of the branches showed signs of disease, I was determined to examine the roots. Once I got there, I looked only backward.
Through sheer will and independence, my father, Champ, closed the door on a shitty childhood and re-booted his life. The day after he graduated high school, Champ was on a train bound for San Diego and Navy basic training.
After some trial and error, heavy on the error, I managed to surpass Champ’s understanding of why his parents were the way they were. In his case, and mine, the sins of the father were not to be visited upon the son, because we cut our fathers loose and built some brick walls. At the end of Champ’s life, he and I were able to remove a few bricks.
My son, Scott, has transcended my shortcomings and is more empathetic, a much better listener and a quicker study. An anecdote from when he was about four: I was light on cash. Scott looked at me like I’m six kinds of idiot, “Well, let’s just go to the bank and get some more.” Through experience, my son has been quick to size up system norms and boundaries, and then apply that knowledge to achieve his desired ends.
The birth of Rex Michael Matson offers an opportunity to turn around in the tree and look forward.
Rex’s first chapter begins with a harrowing birthday, transcending traditional, template-driven OB/GYN expectations of a dozen hours of labor. Eager to escape the confines of the amniotic sac and begin crafting his own narrative, Rex’s head began to pop out before Mom even made it to the delivery room.
Rex is a happy, healthy baby, born nearly two decades into the 21st century. All things being equal, he’ll graduate high school in 2037 and will live to see the 22nd century. I was privileged to be in Scott and Amanda’s living room this weekend, when, at nine weeks, Rex offered his first real smile to Mom and Dad.
A child is born with a heart of gold.
I drove home from Denver today and blue-toothed EW&F and other music of my coming of age. By the time I reached the border, it hit me that if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.
So, I don’t. Anymore. Claim to be a wise man. I do have experience, and what I hope is a pretty good handle on the way of the world, which nearly always traces upstream to human motivation. Once I figured that out, the way of the world learning curve plateaued a bit.
When he graduates from high school, Rex may join the Navy, or he may move across town to an apartment with some chums. But if he does either of those things, it won’t be because he wants to get away from his father.
If my grandson is anything like those who came before him, who share his last name – and he is – Rex will go beyond and above the limits each preceding generation has created. We created them, so we can change them.
It seems like the space around our heads and hearts gets bigger with each passing generation. Rex’s parents are two of the most loving human beings I know.
I have faith and confidence in young Rex. Gather courage, question everything, lead with kindness.
Take you high and higher, to the world you belong.