Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

Son Alex was out to visit last weekend.

Well, that's not exactly accurate. He was out here on a business trip, and carved out a Saturday to spend with me.

And, horror of horrors, I discovered my boy was really a man.

Now give me a little credit — I've known Alex was an adult ever since he graduated from college. That was almost 20 years ago.

Then there was the first time he legally ordered a beer in front of me. Clearly demonstrating his majority. But I paid for the beer.

He's my kid, you know.

He told me over the phone that he had bought a townhome. If I remember right, I had purchased my first Long Beach condo about six months before.

There continued to be adult-making moments — changing jobs, getting engaged, getting married. It really hit home when he called to say he and Lynn were going to have a child.

Of course, having a child doesn't automatically make you an adult. I have known more than one child father and a few child mothers. It makes it tough on the real child.

And it's worse if the child daddy or the child mommy don't have the support of their own parents. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are plenty of youngsters today being raised by grandparents. I haven't seen any figures, but I'm betting it's actually more prevalent today then it was a few generations ago.

But I've lost track of my tale. I was talking about Alex.

Here's a bit of a confession. I've cultivated a bad habit of insisting on paying for everything when Alex or any of our other children are involved. I say bad habit because I realize now that I wasn't allowing them to mature — to be adults.

All I can say is I couldn't help myself. I think it started way back when Alex actually was a child. His mom and I had split up when he was really young. I was determined to remain his dad and fell into a trap I think a lot of men fall into.

I called it the Disneyland Dad approach (turns out I wasn't creating a new definition — counselors had been talking about Disneyland Dads for years). We were in Colorado — a thousand miles away from Disneyland — but we managed to do something special more often than not when he visited.

I even managed a trip to the real thing. Not once, but twice.

I think it made sense for me to keep paying for golf, dinner or whatever after he got out of school. He was just getting started, after all. I could better afford to pay for things than he could (even when that meant credit card debt).

In more recent years, it's been a bit of a game. When we're together, we fight over who's going to pay the bill. I've been known to bribe a waitress to make sure she ignored Alex waving his debit card (he apparently doesn't believe in cash).

I still remember his grin when he and Lynn had waylaid our server just outside the kitchen door and paid the bill before it ever got to the table. It should have told me something.

Flash forward to last week. Alex is a civil engineer now, and he had been sent out to California to talk to potential clients. He does quite a bit of traveling for his job.

I didn't even see him for the first three days he was in Southern California. We met at the golf course Saturday morning.

He then announced that he had to pay for dinner that night — his boss had made it a condition of the trip. The kid has an open expense account.

He pounded the last nail into the coffin of my belief he was still a child when he casually mentioned he had received an invitation to his 20th high school reunion. He'd been an adult longer than he had been a child.

I had to accept that my son was a man. We talked about man things, and I didn't even tell him how much to tip (okay, I suggested he not tip on the taxes charged).

But the man I hugged when he left for the airport? That was my little boy.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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