Eighteen years ago — almost to the day — my wife and I were at the hospital awaiting the birth of our second child, a son. It was one of the greatest days of my life, and at the same time, one of the scariest.
He was born at 8:08 a.m. on Monday morning, June 4th.
They say Monday’s child is fair of face, and Thomas Harrison St. John had a lot of face. He weighed in at 11 pounds, 11 ounces, two weeks early. He was a hoss. And, like his old man, he could eat.
He was also purple. Not that reddish purple that babies are when they are mad and crying, but Barney the Dinosaur purple, a scary bluish purple from head to toe. The color was due to a lack of oxygen in his body. His lungs were partially filled with fluid and they couldn’t distribute the necessary oxygen to other parts of his body.
As they pulled him from his mother, the neonatologist called me over to wipe him down. They placed him on a small table in the corner of the operating room. He was taking short staccato breaths. I was frightened and praying frantically.
The first four hours of my son’s life were the most stressful I have ever endured. The threat of a transfer to the infant ICU hung over our heads. The nurses took him to the nursery and placed him under a contraption that looked like a large plastic Tupperware cake cover. He was force-fed humidified oxygen for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually, he began breathing normally and on his own. His natural color soon developed — pink. He was no longer purple, although he was still big. Very big, very healthy, and pink. He was my big pink hoss.
My father died when I was very young, and at an early age, I looked forward to becoming a dad. My daughter made that dream come true four years before the boy was born. She was a cakewalk — a four-year old going on 40. He was a handful for the first 14 years of his life but seemed to mature and learn lessons quickly into his late teens.
The boy and I share a few common interests: movies, music, football, and breakfast. We have eaten breakfast together all over the world, and several times a week before school since his kindergarten days.
He has now taken his final high school exam. Our breakfasts will be less frequent and more sporadic, if at all. Though he assures me we will always eat breakfasts together when possible. His mom and I are desperately searching for the parental rewind button. There isn’t one. An empty nest is just around the next corner.
In a few days, he will don a cap and gown and receive a high school diploma in the same gymnasium where his sister received her diploma. The advice I will give him is much the same as I gave his sister upon her high school graduation:
Son, there are two seemingly unconventional routes to success in your upcoming professional and personal life — through passion and fun. Professional life decisions should be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. A career should be about one thing — PASSION.
It took the first 20 years I spent on this planet to find my passion. But once I did, my career path was set. The minute I started working in restaurants I fell in love with the industry, instantly. I knew that was what I was “supposed” to do. As you know, I love restaurants. I eat, sleep and breathe restaurants. Restaurants are my hobby.
A few years ago, my son and I were riding in the car. He asked, “Dad, what should I do when I grow up?” I thought for a minute and then said, “Son, whatever it is, don’t follow the money; follow your passion.”
Someone once said, “Do what you love to do for a career and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That is passion. It’s true. I do my hobby and I get paid for it. That is what I want for him.
Success follows passion, every time.
The second piece of advice is about fun. Go out and have fun. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. But it’s got to be the right kind of fun, and it’s got to come from the right kind of places.
Having fun is where it gets a little trickier. It took me a much longer time to figure out how to be a success in my personal life, and how to find the true source of fun — it’s not at a frat party or at someone’s apartment at three in the morning. Granted, those things might be fun in a fleeting sort of way, but you’re never going to achieve a fuller life at a frat party.
After I graduated high school, I looked for fun in a lot of the wrong places. I searched for fun for a long time. It was around the time Harrison was born that the 40-year old me I figured out what life is all about — faith, family, friends, food and fun. Those things, in that order, are what lead to a full, fruitful, joy-filled and productive life.
Harrison, befriend the underdog. Laugh a lot. Make others laugh a lot. Visit a nursing home. Make them laugh a lot. Hug your parents long and hard. Hug them so long that they’re the ones who let go first. Hug your teacher. Seriously, as soon as your commencement is over, go over to your favorite teacher and give him or her a big hug. Thank them. If you don’t appreciate them today, I promise you that you will in the near future. Hug the teacher you liked least, too. They’re likely to be lonely in that moment and in need of a hug. They worked just as hard; you just don’t appreciate that yet.
Take care of your teeth. Walk a lot. Drink milk. Don’t hate. Stay in touch with your friends. Make new friends. Share a meal with your friends. Travel.
Eat French fries. Be nice. Be bold. Behave. Spend time with your grandparents. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor’s neighbor. Love your neighbor’s grandparents. Make mistakes. Then don’t sweat the mistakes you make. Go out and make more mistakes; you’ll get it right eventually. Forgive others for their mistakes. That whole “Do unto others” thing is truly good advice. Floss every day. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so hard on others. Just make it a general rule not to be hard.
Volunteer where you feel led. Don’t just “give back.” To “give back” you have to have received something first. Just “give,” then give some more. Give of your time, give of your resources and give your love. When you think you’ve given enough, then give some more.
Don’t forget the laughing thing. Don’t forget the hugging thing either. Don’t forget any of it. Find your passion. Make that your career. Then go be passionate. Have fun, help others, and eat breakfast with your dad every chance you get.
Hattiesburg native Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef, columnist and author. And perhaps more importantly, he’s a husband, father, brother, and son. For more than 20 years he has written a weekly syndicated newspaper column, now appearing each week in The PineBelt NEWS.