A little less than 18 years ago, Bess and I were naming our first son.
It seemed unfair to strap him with something like “Charles Estes Dimon Kendrick-Holmes III,” so we named him Robert Charles.
We were living outside Nashville at the time, and we planned to call him “R.C.,” fit for a poet, fiddler or professional bass fisherman.
But something else happened. It felt strange calling a baby “R.C.,” so we called him “Robert” and decided to wait to switch to the initials.
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About 18 months later, he got a new brother named Thomas Wilhite, whom right off the bat we called “Will.”
Robert had hardly uttered a word up to this point. Then one day he was in the den when his baby brother somehow got bounced out of his bouncy seat. Robert walked into the kitchen and told Bess, “Will just fell out of the baby seat and needs your assistance.”
Or something like that. Bess thanked him, started to walk into the den, and then froze, realizing that Robert had just addressed her in a complete sentence as if he were an adult.
In about a minute, he’d gone from baby to reliable big brother.
And that’s who he is today: Somebody who does things only because they need to be done and it’s the right time to do them.
He’s not tricky. He’s not flashy. He’s Robert.
He’s the child I could rely on to light the charcoal grill before I drove home from work and, later, to fix things around the house I couldn’t.
My younger brother Clayton was this way as a kid. Like Robert, he could fish all day long whether fish were biting or not. When Clayton got a female dog for his birthday, he found a male of the same breed and pedigree and bred enough litters to buy himself a 4-wheel-drive Ford Bronco.
Robert bought a wrecked Jeep for a dollar and has more or less gotten it back on the road.
They have something else in common: They were both big kids. I don’t know if there’s a connection between being big and being reliable. I was a skinny, reckless and unreliable kid. Maybe being big gave them a quiet confidence and allowed them to focus on other things.
I do know that it was a blessing to have a brother like that, and it’s a blessing to have a son like that.
With Robert, my main worry was making sure I brought his birth certificate to baseball games in case an opposing player’s parents demanded that we prove his age.
The only problem was during a game when he was 13 years old. He was running home and the catcher moved down the base path to catch a throw and Robert ran him over.
The opposing parents went crazy and the umpire threw Robert out of the ballpark.
It was confusing. When Robert called the catcher the next day to apologize, the catcher said, “That’s baseball.” At school, his classmates celebrated the play. At the ballpark, he was suspended for a week.
He wouldn’t always be the big kid. In high school, he once spent an entire football game blocking a nose guard who weighed 400 pounds.
That night, Robert walked through our front door and stood motionless in the dark for nearly 10 minutes before we realized he was home.
And now he’s graduated and moving on, like his sister did two years ago.
He’s learned valuable lessons. Like, you’ll always be bigger than some people, and some people will always be bigger than you. It’s important that you treat everybody well.
Along the way, people have tried to call him other things — Bob, Rob, RKH, RKO — but to us he’ll always be Robert.
We congratulate him, and all our graduates. Now go live up to your name.