"Hi!  Sorry I'm late..." began my older son, Daniel, barging expertly into the house.

I had observed his barges for years; the apology was a welcome sign of maturity and family focus. I had forgotten what he was late for, but forgiveness would come.

I reflected on his many leavetakings—dress rehearsals for the time when his presence would signify a visit, not a return—and how his focus had moved away from Marlene and myself.

         From a nearly housebound child, mumbling unintelligibly to his toy friends, Daniel had made the healthy transformat­ion into a homeless teen, mumbling unintelligibly to his boy friends. Our house, once his anchor, had become his...a­nchor, and he bounced off it with the shallow trajectory that they feared would send Apollo 13 away forever.

But now our young adult had evolved, into a virtual marriage with Emily. And it was confusing.

Marlene and I had each replaced the other's parents as chief focus, and we saw a version of this being played out right before our eyes. A parallel marriage in our kitchen.

Our late night conversations with Daniel were often reduced to inadvertent (more or less) eavesdropping. Our ears twitched, like our cats, as­ doors squeaked in the hazy interface of late night and early morning, and furtive giggles wafted up the stairs. 

Since we didn't disapprove of either her or their relation, it was stealth without resistance. But we had become objecti­fi­ed observers—tangential, replaced. From a Freudian perspective, we were becoming chopped liver.

Their relation was inner focused and self-sufficient. She had become IT. 

Here, with all the transient permanence of youth, were moving snap shots (from farther and farther away) of his future; not necessa­rily with Emily, but with someone. Someone else.

But hers was a paradoxical and confusing presence. We knew that his temporary domestication was largely her doing—she had expanded us faster than he could outgrow us. She was a competing gravitational field temporarily docked at our launch site; a stranger, guest, honored guest, daughter-surrogate, girl friend in-law. For Daniel, our place had become a home away from home. She was faultless, but we were jealous.

Ah, but here he was, apologizing for his lateness. And barging in, like the old days. And when he barges, he ours.

Better late than never, I thought, with pride of authorship. Emily and I exchanged looks that reflected mutual affection for our tardy boy.

"That's OK..." I said, dropping a parental glance, the glint of prerogative, at Emily, just before realizing that, naturally, he wasn't apologizing to me.