I was planning to visit my son at college. He knew I was going to see him Thursday. My wife had sent him a text on Monday, telling him that we would be making the 3-hour drive to have lunch with him. He responded with his typical concise “ok.” We were very busy until Wednesday night, but my wife sent a text around 6 pm, “We are coming for lunch tomorrow.” He did not respond. No big deal, this is typical of my atypical son who does not check texts very often, and seems to reply even less. At 10:30 pm the night before our trip, I sent a text to him…no response. Again, this is typical, he was probably working and couldn’t check it. As we departed for his college Thursday morning, I sent a new text, “We are coming for lunch today.” I did not receive a reply.
At this point, I was a bit puzzled. Over 16 hours, why wouldn’t my son check his texts and reply? My wife’s explanation was that he was now in class, and he would not be out of class until noon, when our lunch date was scheduled. In any case, I sent him a text about 1 hour out: “Where are you? Luv Dad.” Nothing. At this point, I called him two times leaving a message both times. This is when dad, the coward, begins to die a “thousand deaths” for my son. The thoughts race in…
- Did he go running by himself? Was he attacked? Or did he pass out on the trail (he has a heart condition that supposedly could cause this, though it has never happened)?
- When I called him, the phone rang before his voicemail picked up. It did not go directly to voicemail. This is a good sign…his phone is not dead.
- Is he staying with a friend?
- How safe is the campus?
- Certainly if something happened, someone would have contacted us…roommate, professor, campus police, girlfriend, friend, employer…do any of them care enough to follow up?
- How much does he trust his roommate?
- Oh, all the stuff I did in college…I am lucky to be alive, why wouldn’t he do any of these things as well?
- Where is he?
- I am torn between being severely pissed at him and hopeful he is OK
- …and on, and on, and on
Through all of this worst-case-izing, my Stoic kicks in. How would I react if he were dead? Would I need to sit down? Could I be strong for remaining family members? You fraud! All of this talk of how your loved ones are on loan to you, all this theorizing about how you could lose someone any day, all this preparation, all this talk…and you will be a mess, a complete disaster. What were your last words and deeds with him? They were a very hearty hug and an “I love you.” You told him you were proud of him. Good! You should have no regrets. Nevertheless, regret set in. I began to regret that I didn’t tell him more, and that I should have sat down with him and talked more, really paid attention to him, even when he was going on and on about organic chemistry or particle physics, which would both interest me if I had his level of understanding. I don’t.
We arrived at the campus right on time. There was still no son. My wife called him 10 times. We were really worried. I parked just outside of his dorm. After 2 calls with nothing and about 3 minutes, I bolted into a brisk walk to his dorm building. The dorm building was locked, but a student let me in.
- “Do you know Zac?“
- “No, I don’t but I saw you were waiting outside?”
- “I am his dad, do you mind if I come in?“
- “No problem”
The student let me in, and I quickly walked up to my son’s floor, found his room, checked the door. It was open. It felt scary…what would I find? I checked his bed. His body was in it. “Zac, Zac!” I nudged him. Immediately, I hear “Uh, huh?” “Wake up,” I say as a thousand anvils drop to the floor from my shoulders, head, and heart, and a lightness of relief enters my being. I now actually feel like I am floating at this point, with relief. He pops up, looks at me, and his look communicates wordlessly that he is not happy to be awakened at noon by his father, after missing a class, and an important E-mail he was waiting on.
As for me, I was so far into the relief zone that all I had was compassion for my “stayed out late, and slept through my alarm” son. Indeed, he worked late the previous night (2 am), and then was asked by friends if he wanted to watch movies, which he did until 6 am. So, the whole time in the morning he was sleeping during our calls and texts. This certainly does not excuse him for no response from the day before; all that would have took was a few seconds (Got it, Zac?!). In any case, I think he realized the burden he placed on those who were caring for him in that 20 or so hours…he has been much more prompt with text replies since.
Of course, like all stressful situations, this got me to thinking. Without a doubt, if I were to lose one of my children it would pain me terribly. Simply functioning in the time following such an event would take great effort. Without a doubt, my life would never be the same. However, through my Stoic awareness, I would have known ahead of time that this type of fate is possible. There are two benefits to this awareness:
- I would be more ready to absorb the shock. I would have rehearsed this possibility already. Through my philosophy I will already know that these things are possible, and I will have trained to take on the grief that such an event would produce. It would not minimize it, but I would be better equipped to manage it.
- Since I already knew that this was possible, I would have maximized my time and attention with my children. Like I spoke of earlier, no matter what, I would have regrets, but since I dedicated myself to enjoying my loved ones presence, then I could eventually look back and say, “I did my best to be with them when they were here.” So, I continue to make the most of my time with everyone I love.
In any case, I learned from this scare. It has heightened my awareness. Without a doubt, the hug I gave my son that day as I departed was far more meaningful than the last one I gave him. It is my goal to make such embraces, such communications with all of my loved ones, JUST LIKE THAT, ALL of the TIME.
And now you know why this post was so important.