By Guest Blogger Keith Lawley

Prom, traditionally a practice of children morphing into adults for one night, where the ladies dress to the nines, and the gentlemen experience getting fitted for a tux for the first time, wondering to themselves “what in the hell have I just gotten into to?”

Then sprinkle in all the other glorious social aspects of prom. Who will ask me? Who do I want to ask me? Where are we going to eat? What about after the prom? Which friends will we go with? These are just a few examples of the all too common scenarios when I think about prom. I even wonder if the boys really care. I know I pretended to care. I got it right maybe one out of three times, and my skill set was primitive at best. Looking back, I was very scared so the easy way out was to behave as if I didn’t care. Prom seems to be a lot of effort for the children and parents to pull off. I always wondered where the idea of the prom even originated. I can assure you it was not a 17 year old boy’s idea.

But what if I have been missing the point all along? What if prom was really for the parents? A practice warm-up to the idea that our fledglings will one day be leaving the nest? Is prom not the ultimate test of parenthood? How will our children conduct themselves in a formal setting and what does their best behavior look like? Will we be proud of our children’s behavior?

One week before this year’s prom, I sat down with my son, and asked of his plans. Like myself, he is a more “go with the flow” type of kid. Planning is not one of my better skillsets, nor his. This is the opportunity to impart my 30 years of wisdom and mistakes, hoping that when my son leaves the nest, he will know how to treat a lady, act as a gentleman, and how to recognize that small spark of what could be love, if it were to happen. As we discussed these topics, I knew that at age 17, there was not a snowballs chance in hell of me listening to my father’s advice when it came to relationships. All I was armed with was how my father acted towards my mother, and thankfully, the example he gave to me through his actions, was one of a gentleman. I hope that I can at least set some verbal expectations of what a gentleman is with my son. After that, my son will have to figure out the rest, like most of us, by trial and error.

But here’s what I did not count on …

Just a few years ago my son and I could hardly stand to be in the same room, as my expectations and his effort level differed drastically. As he got dressed for the prom, as I helped him iron his shirt, as he had a fresh haircut, as we attached his cuff links, I watched in awe as my son, the one I could not be around, turn into a handsome gentleman. Out with the standard issue outfit, athletic shorts and a wrinkled t-shirt, and in with a sharp tux, a corsage for his date, and a new found level of pride that my boy just might be alright in the next steps of the world, with the first step being prom.

And if that wasn’t enough, his date was radiant. I mean the kind of radiant that every father wants to scream from the top of his lungs to his son, “Do NOT screw this up!” Where did my confidence in him just disappear to? Why do I feel the need to go back over the playbook from our last conversation? Make her feel special. This is her night, but yet be authentic and sincere. Let her order first. For one night, pay her more attention than you do on your friends. Use your sense of humor appropriately…but above all, be a gentleman. This is my best advice, but yet when all the kids and their parents show up to take pictures, what am I doing? Talking to friends, getting side-tracked left and right, just chatting up a storm with friends who I have not seen I a while. Thank God I had a moment of clarity to snap out of it and make sure he feels that he and his date are the most important couple out there to me, without being creepy.

And then they are off … and my head is swimming with all of the above thoughts coupled with another layer of lovely madness at the fact that the prom could be really for the parents, so selfishly.

What if the prom is just a reminder of the most simplistic laws of love and attraction that is all too distorted with adulthood and all of it’s wonderful responsibilities and issues? The kind of love that begins with one’s heart telling the brain, “umm I just skipped a beat when I saw her and we talked. Go do whatever you need to do to keep this feeling.” Simultaneously to that thought is the other part of the brain screaming, “Run … Holy Shit I have no idea what to do with this feeling!”

Prom is the advent of what could be love for the kids, and a wonderful reminder for this father of what love and attraction looks like when it is stripped down to the basic laws of human emotions. Everyone remembers their first love, the first time someone made their heart flutter like a hummingbird’s wings. Prom rekindles that memory for me. Love, the one thing we all have a shot at, no matter our race, creed, or economic status. Love, the belief that love conquers all. Love, the hope that all of our shortcomings and pain involved with in adulthood is worth it.

And then I have to snap out of it. Love is a long road, love takes time, love takes courage. Love risks getting your heart broken. Love is necessary. And love shows up when love is supposed to. And it is my son’s job to find all of this out, no matter how bad I want to tell him “Do not miss this opportunity if those feelings show up inside of you tonight.” We can all see her radiance shining, her dress, her hair, but also a firm knowing that it stems from her good heart. For the love of God, we can see it, can’t you?

Son, I hope when love shows up, you will know it. I have the confidence that you will. It did for me, I just have the advantage of seeing it a little clearer through 30 years of trial and errors. Now go be a gentleman…and thanks for the reminder to me of how to pick up on love’s subtle hints.

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