My son, Moon, turned 13 last Saturday. It is a pretty big deal around our house. Transitioning from a boy into a young man is a major milestone, not only for our household, but also in many cultures around the world. Bar Mitvahs, ritual scarring and other painful rites of passage are big affairs that sometimes take weeks to prepare and complete.
After whatever ordeal is inflicted upon the boy, whether it is walking on hot coals, genital piercing, or having his cheeks pinched 100 times by Jewish grandmothers, the young man walks (or waddles) away from the ceremony feeling accomplished, changed, and somewhat wiser.
I had big plans for the boy's 13th. The lovely Sam and I (OK, Sam) made reservations to take Moon on a 2 hour Barefoot Billy Jetski Tour around the island. Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band was holding a fundraising concert at TGI Fridays for the Boys and Girls Club (Moon is a Junior Staff Member) later in the evening. That still left half of the day for fun and exciting activities. Since the lovely and prudent Sam informed me that under NO circumstances was I to tattoo, scar, burn, or even frighten the boy, my choices became extremely limited. So when I saw the sign on Roosevelt (Thank You VFW!!!), I knew that the heavens had opened up and dropped the Rite Of Passage solution in my lap.
I was taking the boy flying.
The EAA Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 and has provided over 1.5 million free flights to young people aged 8 to 17. They are a nonprofit organization where pilots volunteer their time and their planes to try to inspire young folks to explore the world of flight.
The Young Eagles Rally was bieng held on the morning of Moon's birthday at the Key West Airport. In a small hangar near the biplane terminal the EAA had set up 3 tables. One was for registration, one was for information on how to become a pilot, and the other, my favorite, was for hot dogs and hamburgers.
There was a small seaplane parked outside where a very informative and patient Mark Hightower was sharing his love for flying with the dozens of kids who had shown up early, leading 2 or 3 at a time through a tour of the cockpit. I think he showed Moon every knob, bell, whistle and button on the tiny plane.
I don't know who was more nervous when the plane, a Piper, took off from the runway, we parents or Moon, who had never been on a plane. Twenty minutes, 3 hot dogs, and a half a pack of smokes later, the boy was back, grinning as if he had just eaten 6 pounds of candy corn.
He was almost jumping up and down but bieng 13, was way too cool for that. In public anyway.
When they gave Moon his verytotallyawesome Certificate of Flight, which declares that he is now a Young Eagle and that his name is now permantly entered into the Worlds Largest Logbook in the EAA Airventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I read the signatures at the bottom and could not help but smile.
Not only did the pilot sign the verytotallyawesome certificate but so did the Chairman of the Young Eagles. Only the Greatest Action Hero of ALL TIME, Harrison Ford! Indiana FREAKIN Jones is the Chairman of the EAA Young Eagles! Turns out he is an avid and active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association but also frequently flies the Young Eagles himself.
Can you imagine? Bieng 13 years old and you and Indiana Jones in a small plane flying over some tropical island in search of Mel Fisher's Gold of the Haunted Ruins of Old Fort Zack?
The look on my son's face said that it did not matter who the pilot was, he had found Aztec Gold and the Lost City of Myparentsaresocool in the last twenty minutes.
I suppose, begrudgingly, that not all rites of passage have to involve pain, scarification, and anguish.
A few things that all good rites of passage have in common though. They are death defying, life affirming, and inspire you to new heights and new ways of thinking. I think Sam and I did alright by the the boy.
I still wish she would have let me make him eat a bug or something...
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