Rich Wilhelm

Kids Take You Places

In fatherhood, parenting, Uncategorized on February 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm


Kids take you places. If you’re any kind of decent parent, you go along for the ride.

Yesterday, Chris and I visited the ruined pump house that was part of Phoenixville’s once-thriving iron industry. Left to my own devices, I might have spent those early morning hours at home, but Chris was insistent that he needed footage of this particular industrial relic for a video he planned to make that day. So we went out for a chilly walk, took each other’s pictures in the ruin, and were back home by 9:00.

I’ve been along for the ride (even though I am, of course, the driver) for many of Chris’ excursions recently. Yesterday, it was Phoenixville’s lost industrial field; last week, it was the Very Best Restaurant on Pottstown’s main drag. Chris’ quirky interest in retail spaces has led us to visit several area shopping malls. Not to shop, mind you, but to study the architecture and aesthetics of the places. Chris and I talk during these trips about why people don’t shop in enclosed malls as much as they used to, and why Radio Shack closed most of its stores, and what led to the demise of Deb Shops. These are topics I never would have thought of on my own. In his way, Chris is getting his dad to think more deeply and broadly at the same time, an impressive feat for a 13-year-old kid.

Of course, being along for these kinds of rides did not start with Chris. Chris has an older brother, Jimmy. Practically from the moment Jimmy was born–with the surgeon singing Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” in the operating room–he’s been leading me down all kinds of paths, and I’ve been happy to be along for the ride.

Like a lot of kids, Jimmy became enamored of professional wrestling. This is something that I always managed to avoid, even during the glory days of Lou Albano and Hulk Hogan back in the 1980s. But Jimmy’s love for it was irresistible, to the point that I happily took him to a couple of the big WWE events, where I finally gave in to the sheer ridiculousness of it all for myself.

The best WWE moments that Jim and I had together though, were the trips we took to George’s Collectibles, up in Levittown, to meet pro wrestlers, including the very cool Steve Blackman. We made three such trips, building time into those Saturday mornings for me to drive the extra 30 minutes or so to Princeton, New Jersey. There, on one of those Saturdays, Jimmy and I got completely drenched with pummeling rain while running around Princeton Cemetery to catch the gravesites of Aaron Burr and Grover Cleveland. Then we headed back to George’s to meet the wrestlers. Combining my love of old cemeteries with Jimmy’s WWE  obsession was clearly one of the best father/son bonding experiences ever.

More recently, I was literally along for the ride when I taught Jimmy how to drive. Again, this led me down mental paths I’d never known, since it had never occurred to me that I had it in me to teach someone to drive, even though I’ve been driving for decades. But that’s not all. While Jimmy was driving around, I let him pick the music we’d listen to. He inevitably picked this Kanye West mix that he made for himself, but also to educate me on Kanye’s work. Hearing the man’s music has given me a wider perspective on Kanye West and, while I still think he says lots and lots of jerky things, I’m not going to fall as easily into a knee-jerk middle-aged “hey-kid-get-off-my-lawn” guy reaction to All Things Kanye as I might have if Jim had not made sure I listened to the music.

These days, Jimmy is in the second half of his senior year in high school, and he’s got his mom and me along for the ride again. This ride could very literally lead us to the very same college dormitory that I led my parents to back in the fall of 1983. As this process unfolds, what Donna and I are learning is the gradual art of letting go, as Jimmy begins to move forward with his life.

I am learning now that letting go and letting kids grow up is tough, but it is the ultimate goal of parenting. Fortunately, if you’ve done it right, your kids might just let you occasionally come along for their rides into young adulthood and beyond. As long as I’m around, I’ll continue to enjoy coming along for any rides in which Jimmy and Chris care to include me.


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Patrick F. O'Donnell

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