A Different Path

An open letter to my beloved nephew, 24 year old Nicolas Primero:

Dear Nick,

I was so excited when you first started school.  New pencils, new lunchbox, new you.  The first baby in the family was on his way to Kindergarten.

Remember how, every year, the night before school started, I would call you?  To wish you well, to send you off with good thoughts about reading and writing and making friends? The first years were easy.  Everybody loved you and you did well.  When the reading specialist came to test kids, you told me you knew all the answers and you were “too smart” to need extra help.  You wouldn’t be following that path.

And then things changed.  Maybe the difficulties at home made school difficult.  Dad moving out.  Mom getting stabbed and spending all that time in the hospital.  By now, you were struggling and you spent every July and August in summer school.  There were lots of Ds and Fs and pretty soon you didn’t even care all that much.  You were on a path, for sure.  But…a path to where?

High school wasn’t any easier.  You got a tutor to help you pass.  But you didn’t get to class enough for tutoring to make a difference.  There were more failing grades.

Then…you dropped out.  I was disappointed, but tried not to show it.  This wasn’t the path I had envisioned for you.  You would do well and go to college.  You would find a good job and get an apartment and maybe travel the world.  Yes!  You would follow the same path I had.

But your path was different.  You kicked around after high school, joined a band, hung out, got a million tattoos, threatened to get your GED.  You worked, but what kind of job can a 20 year old get with a tenth grade education?  Pizza delivery, factory stuff…not enough to make ends meet.

I worried and wondered about you, Nick.  Where could this path possibly lead?

And then…things changed again.  You did get the GED.  On your own.  Maybe it was the girlfriend.  Maybe you were tired of scraping by.  Maybe you had hope for something nobody else could see?

Now you would go to college, I thought.  And get on the “right” path.

But you didn’t.  You kept working.  I was always proud of you for holding a job.  And people always loved you, Nick.  You had a knack for making and selling “merch” for rock bands. But really?  Where would these jobs lead?  Couldn’t somebody convince you to go to college, somewhere?

Then you found welding.  You had always loved the idea of it.  But welding school seemed out of your reach.  Now there was a chance to go.  You would have to go at night after work and it would mean taking out a loan.  You texted to tell me you were scared.  Would you be able to pass?  Would you be good enough?  Would you end up dropping out when it got too hard?

But you signed up anyway.  You went every night.  You wanted extra time so you could learn more.  You just wanted to be good enough!  Smart enough!

And here you are texting to tell me your first grade: 93, best in the class.  There are job offers, too.  Good ones.  And you love welding.  Which is the most important thing.

Your path is so different than mine.  So different because it’s yours.  And I’m writing to say I love you, Nick, for showing me this other route, this other way, a path I never envisioned.