I think it first hit me when the Counselor stepped across in front of me and took a seat beside my lovely wife, Lisa. That would be Jeremy (Manifest Destiny) Dailey, soon to be graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law. By soon I mean as measured in hours, not weeks. I have known Jeremy since he was a twinkle in his old man’s eye and he is good people. He wants to put criminals behind bars. If you need a good young prosecutor let me know and I will put you in touch.
I have referred to Jeremy as “Counselor” since he was in the 10th grade, because of his penchant for “lawyering” on every subject. “Now he is about to be one,” I thought to myself. “Wow!”
Then Sam Dawkins stood up to sing. I have been listening to Sam Dawkins sing for more than a decade, but on this night I realized that the lovely young girl staring at him with stars in her eyes was his wife and that he is about to finish his second year at Candler School of Theology. “Wow!” again.
Then the wedding party began coming in. There was Robert Gray — with a short, neat haircut — looking like he is ready to take his place in the real world. As I glanced around to see who might be next to walk down the aisle I saw Matthew Stapp in the crowd, looking spiffy in a blue blazer and tie. I used to find Matthew prom dates. Now he is all grown up and working on behalf of The Lord. I also saw Derrick Wu, himself an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Then my son Jackson escorted a lovely bridesmaid down to the altar — all 6 feet, 4 and 1/2 inches of him — and I saw him through new eyes. Suddenly he was not the kid I used to haul across the country and beat regularly at one-on-one in the driveway. I realized that he was two years into his own teaching and coaching career and had become the man I hope to be some day.
And then I looked at the altar again and realized that the grinning groom, standing beside the preacher, was really Jon Carter — my second son. He was about to become a husband. I realized that he and all the rest of the men of the class of 2007 — the highest performing class in the history of Advanced Placement U.S. History at Heritage High School — were adults. The guys that had gathered for Jon Carter’s wedding are people I love. For three glorious years they would hang out at our house and sleep in our basement and accompany me to Henderson’s — any time I would pick up the check. Now here they were — all grown up and ready to make their marks upon the world.
Jon Carter cemented his place as a part of our family when he and Jackson became inseparable buddies with a bond built primarily on Georgia football. Jon has traveled with my family — and my family with Jon’s — to almost every stadium in the Southeastern Conference and several bowl games. I have had his back from Tampa to New Orleans to North Avenue and on one cold night in Lexington, Ky., kept him from receiving a thrashing at the hands of an inebriated Wildcat fan — and her husband. I did it with pure Porterdale bravado and, in doing so, created a legend that will be passed down to generations of Bulldog fans.
Mine are the only books Jon has ever read, other than the Bible, and he will never know how many letters I wrote on his behalf, pleading with the admission officers at UGA to give him a chance to repeat the stellar job he did in my very challenging academic arena. He made a 4 on the AP exam, same as my brilliant daughter, Dr. Jamie Leigh. Of course Counselor Dailey made 6 — out of a possible 5 — but that’s another story for another day.
I love Jon Carter, and as I looked into his joyful face on this particular Saturday evening at the Georgia Club, my emotions got the better of me. Jon’s uncle, Terrell, who officiated the wedding, called him out during the ceremony for shedding a tear or two when he first saw his beautiful bride, Toni, walking toward him down the aisle.
I couldn’t tell, because long before that moment, tears had been streaming down my face. They were tears of joy, brought about by the enormity of the moment — and because, as I watched Jon’s classmates and the Kimmel twins, Jarad and Justin, along with Ty and Ashley Kelly and Jon’s brother, Benjamin and my own two daughters, Jamie and Jenna — and all the others I had been privileged to teach — I realized that God had indeed blessed me so greatly by surrounding me with some of the finest young people on earth.
Bless you, Jon and Toni, and may your life together be long and wonderful and filled with happiness and joy — and the Love of God.