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My Son Goes Away

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My child arrived just the other day/he came to the world in the usual way/But there were planes to catch and bills to pay/ he learned to walk while I was away/And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it and as he grew/He'd say "I'm gonna be like you Dad/You know I'm gonna be like you."
"Cats in the Cradle" — Harry Chapin

Kerry stood by the window, looking outside, just hoping for a thunderstorm.

"Think we'll get lightning tonight, Dad?" he asked me.

I was knee deep in something — homework, work, trying to figure out how to rob Peter to pay Paul — something, anywhere but on lightning storms.

My mind did a quick shift: "Well, the weather forecast is calling for the possibility of storms, so there's definitely a chance," my overly Spock-like response came back.

"I sure hope we do," he said as he stood there in nothing but his boxer shorts. It was getting on his bedtime and somewhere along the way, he'd abandoned the idea of pajamas in favor of nothing but his skivvies as bedtime attire.

Leaning over from my desk-chair, I put my chin on his shoulder and peered out into the night sky with him. The dark night betrayed nothing of the clouds that may have been lurking unseen by our upward-looking eyes. Kerry turned his head ever so slightly.

"I know, Dad," he almost whispered into my ear, "let's check the Weather Channel and see if anything is coming."

We popped over to my computer and did a quick jump from my online class to the Weather Channel's maps.

"Look at all that by Cheyenne," my son said, a tone of wonderment befitting an eight-year-old punctuating his voice.

"Which direction is it heading?" I somewhat rhetorically asked him. I knew, but I didn't want our conversation to end.

We sat and discussed the direction of the storm — was it going to hit the town west of ours or was it going to make a beeline for us? A few minutes more of talk about the impending storm and Kerry returned to the window, both his hands on the glass, framing his head, the rim of his glasses and his nose the only distance between his face and the cold window. I studied the weather map a little longer.

"Dad," Kerry said.

"Yeah, bub," I called back to him.

Writers, it's almost always about writers — I started calling Kerry "bub" a long time ago, because that's what one of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson, called everyone — bub. And Kerry, that"s short for Kerouac, my favorite writer of all time.

"I'm gonna miss you," he said.

"I'm gonna miss you too," I said back to him as I raised my arms and did a "come here" motion my son long ago learned meant to get over here and give his old man a hug. I held him, that tiny body shaking with equal parts night-chill and lust of the world. Just under 24 hours from that moment I was going to take this wonderful piece of my life, drive him to Denver, put him on a plane, and send him to his mother, my wife, separated from me due to the wind-shifting vagaries of the current economics of the world, in San Diego. When I would see him again: a long time from now, longer than is reasonable or right but no matter, it's what the heavens have deemed necessary at this moment.

"Out-of-state Utah!" I yelled out as little man and I made our way to Denver and the waiting United Airlines flight that would take him to the other side of this country.

About Mr. B

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Benjamin -

    My youngest son just left home two weeks ago tonight. He’s staying with our family in the Philippines, and I miss him terribly. I taught him about my fear of the song “Cats in the Cradle” on more than one occasion – and he said, “You already told me about that, Dad.”

    We’ll see each other later this year, and I promised myself that I’ll buy him a new mitt so he and I could toss the ball around, so we can spend a day or so yakking about anything, everything, nothing at all.

    He and I both have ADD – so when we’re talking, we’re constantly ‘changing channels’, skipping from subject to subject to subject with no notice, no apparent connection to what was previously said…but the connections are obvious to the two of us, for we both know where our minds are. When we’re in a good mood (when I’m not lecturing him on this or that), our talks are like a frantic, anarchic dance, the rhythm of which is known only to the dancers…and at the end we’re both exhilarated, invigorated – my son tells me he wants to do jumping jacks or swim laps after such a talk. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I hope you have such a connection with your kids.

    It does hurt terribly to not see him every day – I’m so doggone proud of him, but I worry about him each and every day. You know how it is with young men – they’re bulletproof and immortal. My wife and I did all we can, and we’re still trying, doggone it!

    Thanks for the article, Benjamin – it helps to remember that I’m not the only dad going through this….

  • Joanne Huspek

    Very touching. I can tell you love him very much. The bad thing is that the leaving doesn’t get any easier the older they get. My son first went away at five – to visit Grandma in Minnesota. He’s now 23 and married and I still feel the same sadness when we part.