John Darling: Blinded by the light

Ashland High School grads toss their mortar board caps into the air at the conclusion of the 2022 graduation ceremony at the Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park. Ashland High School Facebook page photo
September 3, 2022

Father’s Day, graduation, and the arc of bringing up the kids

By John Darling

We go out for Father’s Day at Dutch Bros where I love to hang in the early morning parking lot as the dawning sun blasts over the flanks of Grizzly and don’t you have to love the patter of the wired espresso heads just making your day blasting their rock and remembering what you drink and Danielle hands me my mocha and says “hey, you coached me at Y soccer in second grade and it’s Father’s Day and you’re with your daughter so it’s free!”

John Darling in 1999

And you just have to smile, I mean, man, I just love this city — and I realize, even though it’s trying to become a hyper-spender geezerville, that’s not gonna happen. It’s a city now, not a town, and that means it’s a mix and the people who happen to be young and poor and have kids will always find ways to live here and bring in those new streams of energy.

My kids give me music mixes and here’s “Blinded By the Light” and “Gangsta Paradise,” songs we played through the ’90s when they were toddlers learning to run the radio and CD and climb the back of my chair while I was trying to write. We grab root beer and boxes of the best food in town at the Co-op and go lie in the railroad park cracking jokes and playing that old game of making clouds disappear by using your mind.

It’s just been graduation and Hannah says it was the best night of her life, throwing that funny hat in the air and sitting between Elise, whom she met playing on the swings at Garfield Park at 3, and Hana, whom she’s known since a great party where all us parents met when the girls were literally babes in arms.

I’m walking behind the bandshell as the ceremony starts. They shout and wave at me. I take their picture. Then I stand there looking at these grown women, radiant. It all flashes across the mind, all these years, the overnights, the pizza, the thousands of rides to DJ’s for videos, dropping them off at grade school in the rain, going out to the lake for the day, their struggles in their sophomore years, working their way into their adult skins.

And those farewell speeches, hey, I’ve heard other graduation speeches but no one ascends to the heights and burns the envelope like these Ashland kids, like Dylan, who says “hear me, parents, family, friends, we’re off to adulthood now and we know it’s not about careers, college, mortgages and such serious stuff. It’s about love and no one’s ever going to tell us any different, cuz we’re standing on this mountain top tonight, free to do whatever we want with our lives, holding all the love you’ve given us, rich with all the memories of childhood in their fairyland town and we thank you, mom, dad, teachers, friends, because we got it.”

This is one of those moments — blinded by the light. I look over the crowd and every face is lit up with smiles and the understanding and happiness of what this lad is saying and we all leap to our feet in applause. It worked. That’s what we parents are realizing. We raised these kids, so many of us, with an over-application of love, hugs, praise, always saying, not just “bye” but “bye, love you.” We did what our parents warned us against: we spoiled them. We gave them everything they wanted. Within reason. We let them have all the pizza and videos and hugs they could stand. We didn’t spank them. We were there for them. When they were born, we saw they were already who they are and didn’t need to become anyone else. We held them — and beheld them — at every turn. We probably changed history.

John Darling lived in Ashland from 1971 until he died at age 77 in January 2021. A US Marine Corps journalist, he went on to write for the Oregonian, Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings, and United Press International, among others, along with stints as a news anchor at KOBI, executive assistant to the Oregon Senate President and press secretary of campaigns for Oregon governor and U.S. Senate. is, with permission, publishing monthly excerpts from his collection “The Divine Addiction: Essays Out of Oregon.”

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at
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