When my eldest son Hans went off to college a few years ago I wasn’t sad. I was happy. He was embarking on adulthood and you could tell from the way he dashed up the escalator at the airport to board the plane that he couldn’t get to college a minute too soon.
We didn’t go out there with him and move him in or check to make sure he knew how to do his laundry, eat his dinner, wipe his ass, or put on condoms. We just waved goodbye and watched him go. My wife was sad but I wasn’t. I knew what kind of great time he was going to have, and how much better, infinitely better, it was going to be than it would be staying.
And it was.
I visited him in Philly twice, once during his freshman year and again when he graduated. We weren’t exactly helicopter parents. More like deep space probes.
When he returned to California after three years with an infinitely valuable degree in philosophy, he moved back home, got a job tutoring high school kids, and began saving money to retire his share of the college debt. He worked eight hours a day, often six days a week. He paid $300 a month in rent and slept on the living room floor on an old futon.
He never complained, but he never waxed exactly eloquent about sleeping on the floor and having one corner of the couch as “his” hang out space. He commuted to work on his brother’s too-small bike and learned just how fucking deadly it is trying to “share the road” when the other sharers want you dead.
He got harassed by the PV cops for being a shade too tan and looking poor with an old backpack pedaling that too-small bike, he rode in the rain and he rode in the heat. Every month he got stronger going up Hawthorne, and many was the night he came home lathered in sweat but grinning.
All the while he was plotting his escape, of course, a teaching stint through the Fulbright Commission at a public high school in Austria. He got waitlisted for the program, causing me to wonder this: How can a kid named “Hans” with great grades from a great school who studied a semester in Berlin NOT get the first job on offer in a country where they speak German? Answer: That’s how the world is.
When the call came he was ready, but the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Postal Service were not. His paperwork only barely arriving in time thanks to the ineptitude of bureaucrats who truly, deeply, and profoundly do not care, he packed up his thing, singular, and I drove him to the airport.
In a year’s time we had talked, walked, laughed, listened, hugged, disagreed, drunk our morning coffee together, eaten home cooked meals of varying quality, hustled down to Baskin-Robbins for late night ice cream, and even had a couple of slugfests on the bike. I had so much I was going to tell him on the way to the airport, but suddenly we were there and it was all unsaid.
An angry limo driver crowded us as a scowling cop motioned him to get his bags and me to move the hell on. Hans reached over and gave me a hug. “Love you, Dad,” he said, and hustled away from the car, across the island, and towards the terminal’s doors.
The strapping, loping, graceful, beautiful man glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. I warmed from the inside out in a giant pulsating wave, then had to bite my lip hard to fight back the tears, which, like all good rivers, flowed anyway.