A son grows up, a father faces the future
My cousin has always been an inspiration. Wilton Collins Jones Jr. — he’s always been called “Corky” — is one year younger than me (54) and has been a lifelong professional musician. We were raised in Fayetteville, our mothers were sisters who both ended up divorced and raising sons as single moms. We had that single mom bond and that of family, and so we were close.
As I headed off to college, he was getting schooled in music, playing in rock bands, jazz fusion bands, duos, trios, sometimes groups that toured the country and kept him gone for long periods of time.
We’d get to see each other on holidays, and I was fortunate enough back in the day to catch his bands sometimes when he was playing in different cities. He kept mastering new parts of his craft, progressing from an amateur bass player who I used to jam with in high school to a professional singer, guitar player, keyboardist and bassist who can play any kind of music.
I’ve spent my life amazed by his uncanny ear for music, his ability to hear a song and then sit down days later and work out the melody or the chords, the tune imprinted in his brain. This was before YouTube and other digital aids for learning an instrument. When he first demonstrated that ability to me way back in high school, I realized the difference in talent between us. Music was his life from an early age.
Until Seth came along. Seth’s mom died tragically when he was a baby, and so Corky’s life also changed dramatically. He got off the road and became a father first, musician second. As might be expected, he passed both his genetics and learned love of music to his son. And so Seth left his Fayetteville home last week to pursue his own dreams.
Corky and I have fallen out of touch since my mom died, something that often happens as the matriarchs who provide the family glue pass away. But we’re still family, still connected in a way that years and miles can’t separate. I was touched by the raw emotion in a piece he posted on Facebook after Seth’s departure. Powerful stuff, feelings that most of us will deal with at some point in our lives:
He is 21 years old, and after having full custody of him since he was not even 2, we have pretty much been inseparable. My life has mostly been raising Seth — or Setharoo, as his mother used to call him, God rest her soul.
Well, as I knew would some day happen, Seth has packed all his stuff and left this morning to move to Long Beach, California. He has been preparing for this for about two months now, has spent days packing up. My family has helped us so much in getting his car fixed up for the long haul and getting him all the basics he will need to get started in an apartment with three other guys a long way from home for the first time.
And it has all led up to this morning, him waking me up saying, “Hey Dad, get up so we can say bye, I got to get the rest of this stuff packed up and go.” He was still packing stuff in his girlfriend Amber’s car when I got up, slapped some new strings on his Gibson 335 — I fell asleep last night and did not get that done — set it up quickly and let him try out the action … and watching him play it and say “Yeah, that feels pretty buttery Dad, thanks.” Then he packed it away. Well, no more stalling, the time had come.
He came back in and said, “Well, I have to go now.” We hugged like I have never hugged my son before. I almost hugged his skinny little a## in half although I was trying not to. We both burst into tears. We embraced hard for a minute and he said, “I love you Dad, thanks for supporting me in all of this.” Seth almost never tells me he loves me out loud. As is the case often with boys, you gotta’ just know they love you. “I’ll call you as we get to places on the way.”
I said, “21 years, 21 years, and since you were 2, it has been me and you buddy. I love you Seth, please be careful. Don’t keep a lot of money on you” (like the weird dad things you say when you are upset and nervous).
He walked off into his girlfriend’s car — who was holding back tears — and they began to drive off. I screamed out, “I love you Seth” one more time, as if I had forgotten to say it. He screamed back, “I love you too Dad,” and they drove away.
After they were out of sight I started crying uncontrollably hard. My dog, Fender, was freaking out and trying to comfort me — what a great buddy. I looked at him and said, “Well, our buddy is gone,” and I know the dog will be freaking out for awhile, too, because him and Seth were really close.
For the last few years my son has been feverishly, fervently recording and creating his own original instrumental and vocal music in his little home studio in his bedroom. I have listened to the music pounding through walls of his room and echoing down the hall over and over and over. I have listened to him working like a mad man in a lab until the early morning hours, and many times stuck my head in his room and said, “Wow, did you make that track? That is awesome son.”
There have also been times when I wished he would take a break or stop running my freaking electric bill up so high (not really). But this morning it has dawned on me, already, and I could only flashback to how my mother must have felt after all of those years of her apartments booming with non-stop bass riffs rumbling from a closed bedroom door with a young man in there working his brain out trying to get good, and then when they move out, the silence. It has only been an hour or so since Seth left, but that is what is already way too apparent — the silence.
Do not get me wrong here. I am very excited for Seth and I am very much wishing him all the best (while I am also totally worried and concerned like any parent would be), but I have to admit I was not prepared at all for how much this separation was going to hurt me inside. Today and the days after are going to be very tough for me and very exciting for Seth.
My heart hurts ... my eyes are all puffed up ... my nose is stopped up and my stomach is in knots ... my hands feel shaky ... I am a mess. I really need a hug, but I have no one. I know there are probably a lot of friends of mine reading this who have been through this already and know how it feels. Even after just a few hours you start wondering, “What am I going to do with myself?”
For the first time in so long it is just me, and although that newly found freedom could be a wonderful thing, and all the weight of that obligation has been lifted to a degree, I already realize like most parents do at this point that the weight of obligation has been a blessing, a gift that has kept me and my life grounded and focused for years in trying to raise a good son, which I did, and who I will miss more than anything I could possibly miss, and who I love more than anything I could possibly love.
And so I had to let him go. Good luck Setharoo. Signed one proud, happy, sad, weepy Dad.