Coach's Corner

Coach is a proud papa; his son Adam graduated from college last week.

I'm driving up U.S. Hwy. 1, a few miles south of Santa Cruz, Calif. I've just made a wrong turn, sticking myself in the impossible snarl of weekend traffic that seems to be normal in this coastal beach town. I'm not bad with directions, but there's something about the entire Bay Area that causes my internal magnetic compass to spin and whirl and then go blank. It's all those coves and bays and cities built on peninsulas, I think. Even a reliable reckoning like the ocean being West is usually wrong because that water only looks like the Pacific. It's really Half Moon Bay, which appears to be the ocean (which has to be West) but is really North. Sitting in this late spring weekend traffic -- going the wrong way -- brought on a feeling of déjà vu. It's four years ago this September that my son and I made the long but satisfying drive along the desert route of Interstate 10, then North on I-5 to Northern California on our way to the University of California at Santa Cruz. On that drizzly, cold September morning, I made the same wrong turn and was stuck in the same tangle of traffic.

"Four years," I think, "is that possible?" It feels like yesterday afternoon. Adam's about to graduate, and for his senior project he's performing, with the help of many talented friends, a four-year body of music he'd written and composed. In the lobby of UCSC's Performance Center, I'm moved to see the turnout of friends and family who came from distances, near and far, to support Adam. His sister risks missing her senior prom to be here; she'll have to leave at 5:30 the next morning to get back to Austin. My friends John and Valerie, who happen to be in San Jose, make the drive over "the Hill," as they call the Coastal Range. His grandparents from Chicago, aunts and uncles and family friends from L.A. and San Francisco. These are all people who've known Adam all his life. None are under any obligation to make this trip. But this is about friends, not of family, but of my son's.

As a kid, Adam never had many friends. He was shy and awkward, and struggled to find his way. His high school experience was rotten. Many of the kids he hung with were in and out of trouble. So was Adam. He took drugs. He drank. Not a week went by without a court appearance or another meeting with an assistant principal. He hated all things West Lake Hills and didn't mind going out of his way to show it. He wasn't a lot of fun to live with either.

That he insisted on getting as far from West Lake as possible -- both physically and culturally -- for college wasn't surprising. Here was a person in desperate need of a fresh start. Now four years later I'm in a large auditorium almost filled; his family only a small portion of the audience.

Later, after a shockingly professional and creative show (is that really my son?) his girlfriend threw him a party. The small house is packed with college kids -- 50 or 60, I don't know -- and every one a friend of Adam's. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't suppressing a tear or two as he strolled into the house, two guitars slung over his shoulder, to cheers and back pounding and shouts of congratulations. A boy, a few years ago with virtually no friends, is tonight a young man basking in the glow of more than he can count.

It's hard being a parent. We all want good things for our kids and we think we, as adults, know best. We weren't crazy about him going to UCSC. He'd never even seen the place, but it was his top choice, the only place he really wanted to go. We've just finished (and lost) a similar power struggle with his sister over college choices. But this weekend shows that what seemed like a lost battle to her parents would probably be a win for Janie.

Almost too late for any parental good, Adam's experience shows we have to find a way to trust our kids to find the right way. Adam had a strong instinctual feel for a place where he'd be allowed to be who he was, without any of the stifling baggage of his hometown. He did it all by himself. A house full of friends proves him right beyond even his, I'm sure, wildest dreams. I couldn't be prouder.

Parting shots: My feelings about the bloated UT football program are quite public, so I won't be mistaken for any kind of homer. But what happened to Cedric Benson last week in Midland was a travesty: a disgusting little set-piece drama played out in one of the most isolated cities in America. It is possible this might be a harbinger of trouble to come for Benson, but the facts indicate nothing more than a mean-spirited, small-town police bust with the intent of entrapping and embarrassing a "famous" person. The official Midland line is that Benson was a random arrest, just a fella in the wrong place (a two-person party) at the wrong time. I'm from the Midwest, and I don't trust coincidences. They went looking for Benson and they found him.

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