The summer was quite different now. It was more time with his friends and his girlfriend. I was really happy that his life had involved so many people and that he had such a great group of friends around him. I actually had no idea of the number until one day he asked if they could come over. By the time they all arrived there was no room left in the living room or kitchen. A great time was had by all and my food bill sky rocketed for one day. A mob of teenagers really can eat you out of house and home. I did not care; it was all worth it. It happened many more times over the summer and I was always elated to watch such a great group of kids. As had been the case for all of Steven’s life, there were girls in the group, and they were treated with just as much respect as all the boys.
This was the summer that Steven asked if he could learn to drive. He was only 14 years old but in Alberta you can get a learner’s permit at 14 years of age. I knew this day was coming and was petrified. I tried really hard not to show it. We started one night in the parking lot of a local mall. As he had done when he learned to ride a bicycle ages ago, he wanted it one step at a time. My car was an automatic and I thought this was a good way to learn. When everything was ready, we made our first trek across the parking lot. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. It was not the jerky ride I was expecting. Until he got use to the brakes, the final stop was a little sudden but as the evening wore on, the ride was smoother and smoother.
Two weeks later I let him on the streets when he asked if he could drive us home after our practice. My head said no way, but my heart said that it had to come sooner or later. Now was as good a time as any. My heart was correct, he made it flawlessly home that night. From then on, whenever he wanted to practice, I let him drive to and from the practice session, which had graduated from the mall to wherever he thought he needed the practice.
By the end of the summer, he wrote his learner permit test and passed with flying colors. Once again, as I had seen over and over in Steven, he was jumping for joy with this like it was the best thing in the world. I was so happy for him we decided on a night out at the Keg with all its usual pomp and pageantry. When Steven walked in and started telling everyone he had passed his learner’s permit, the staff went out of their way to celebrate with us. Once again, we ended with his favorite, Baked Alaska. He still went google-eyed when it was lit on fire. Everyone in the restaurant clapped for him when it was all over. When Steven turned 16, I signed him up for Driver’s-Ed which he also passed with flying colors.
Steven and I had to plan out his high school courses. He would take English, Math and Social Studies all four years. Biology would be grade 9, 10 and 11, Physics and Chemistry would be 10, 11 and 12, PE for all four years, mandatory health class for grade 9 and 10, French for grade 9, 10 and 11, Calculus for grade 12 and for his elective he wanted to take drafting. I knew he had liked to draw and sketch all his life so, while this surprised me a little, it did make sense. By the time we were done, he had his high school academic life all planned out.
When we looked at the Sports, Clubs and Service options, most were not available to him as he had gymnastics after school now from 4:30-6:30 every day. He did say he wanted to run for Student council so we read all about this and he figured he could do this. He also really wanted to do basketball. This was doable since all the practices were early in the morning, but I was worried about any crossover with weekend games and gymnastics competitions. I told Steven to talk with the basketball coach about this and have him call me if he had any questions. It went without saying that everything worked out fine. It turned out that, with the exception of any championship games, all regular season games were after school on Fridays. We talked with his gymnastics coach, and he thought it was a good idea to have Steven also involved in another sport. Alternative gymnastics practice for these Fridays could be arranged. I was not looking forward to the 7:00 am practices three days a week. One thing we needed to do was a sports physical. It was off to see Dr. Brian again.
I got the low down on our way home. Everything was great and he was in fantastic shape according to Dr. Brian. Steven did mention to me that he would never get use to someone touching his testicles or sticking a finger up his bum. Both of us had a hearty laugh about this. With all the physicals he had during his early life and now the regular sports physicals, I guess it was something to get used to.
The high school was only about 2 miles from our apartment so it was agreed that Steven would ride his bicycle to school for as long as he could and take the bus or I would drive him the other times. I was happy with the arrangements but knew I was going to miss the chatter we had in the car every day.
On the first day of school, Steven noticed the depression in me as I said goodbye. He immediately turned around and ran up and hugged me saying, “It’s OK dad. I love you and will always love you. I will be OK. I promise to let you know all about my day when I get home.” He kissed me on the cheek and took off on his bicycle to school. I have to say that tears welled up in my eyes as I watched him ride away. The plan was that after school he would come home and do his homework until I arrived and then we would be off to the gym.
Everything worked fine and high school turned out to be a very positive experience for him. He did not win the student council election, but his new friend did, and he was happy for him. I reminded him that it did not mean he had to quit. There was always next year. As it turns out, that was all it took. He was elected to student council for grade 10 and 11 and was class president for grade 12. Once again, I was so proud of him.
It was during his sophomore year that Steven came to me wanting to talk about his future. He told me that while he loved his gymnastics, he did not want to try out for the national team. He was not really interested in representing Canada at the Olympics. I was able to support him in this decision and so was coach Paul. When Paul and I talked after this, he did mention that in his estimation, Steven did have a great chance at the team and an Olympic medal. I decided not to mention this to Steven.
He continued to do well in his gymnastics and his fitness was superb. Hard to imagine that this healthy, strong 17-year-old was once frail and fragile. It was all I could do to hold back my emotions. The medals and ribbons continued to pile up and the shelves in his room were literally packed now. Added to this were his multitude of school awards and trophies. It looked like a sales room in an awards shop.
Senior year was the time for Steven to think about his university. We poured over pamphlets and brochures that the counselors gave him. He decided to apply to University of Alberta in Edmonton, University of Toronto, MIT and Stanford. It took him most of the month of January to get these completed and out but when it was all over, I was sure that at least one of them would accept him. In all the applications, Steven was looking for financial assistance in the form of a gymnastics scholarship. We also made application to 10 other scholarships hoping to get some help. While I was not worried, I wanted Steven to do his part as well. There was no way that money was going to stop Steven from going to university and get a degree even if it meant I had to get a loan out to do it.
I was amazed at the returns. Steven got accepted into the faculty of Engineering in all four universities with all except MIT offering him a full gymnastics scholarship. The University of Alberta and Stanford even sent someone to Calgary to preview his gymnastics during the provincial finals. The timing was perfect.
When Steven heard about this, he worked harder than I have ever seen him do and the results were amazing. He finished first in 5 of the six events and his team got the gold medal. As he always did, he ran to me to hug me and thank me for everything. I reminded him that he was the gymnast not me. I did hug him back and revel in his success.
In the end Steven accepted the University of Alberta mostly because he did not want to be too far from home. I was secretly elated with this decision but as I had always done, I would have supported him at any of these universities. He had also been awarded a total of 6 scholarships. Once again, I told him how proud I was of all that he had accomplished.
It was now the end of his grade 12 year and graduation was just around the corner. Once again, Steven was to give the valedictorian speech.