In order to move on we must, for a moment, move back, to the year 2000, to the month of June. The evening is a slow walk, the sky a sanctuary of the new summer’s endless light. We are a young family, Dena and I and Ben. Ben is three. At that moment still unknown to us, Sam is a zygote on a mission to make his grand entrance in the spring. But on this particular evening, it is just Ben and me. It’s after dinner and before bed and the two of us are sitting atop the monkey bars at the playground down the street, talking about the important things: Star Wars and Bionicles and the relative merits of backhoes versus excavators. The long rays of light crown Ben’s blonde hair in filigrees of gold.
A group of older boys rides past on their bicycles and Ben, watching them disappear, says, “Daddy, where are their parents?”
“I’m sure they’re at home.”
“But why are they out without their parents?”
“They want to be,” I say, and add, “When you’re older, you’ll want to be out with your friends, too.”
Ben turns the full force of his eyes on me. They are the most extraordinary eyes. As boundless as the evening light. Twin universes I fall into hopelessly and joyfully. He says, with the gravitas reserved for life’s unshakable truths, “Daddy, I will never want to go anywhere without you.”
And it was at that moment, with those words of utmost sincerity, that my darling, precious child, the one with universal eyes and the spun-gold hair, revealed himself as a scurrilous liar.
Because, of course, he would go on to want to do so many things without his parents. He would go away time after time. Kindergarten. Sleepovers. Summer camp. Different states. Different countries. All without a parent in sight. In time, it was the list of things that he still wanted to do with his parents that we could count on one hand.
Sam, in his turn, was even worse. His mission from birth was to keep up with his brother. He didn’t even indulge us by pretending that he would ever want to take us everywhere he went. Ben at least had the respect to look back over his shoulder every now and again. But Sam? Something is wrong with that boy’s neck, I’m telling you.
Last month, Ben delivered the final, killing blow to the lie that he would never go anywhere without his parents. He left home to go to college, and that sound you hear is his parents’ primal screams of anguish. Who ever suspected that our children, the babes we brought into this world and swaddled in the purest essence of our hearts, would repay us in this way?
At first I thought it was some defect specific to our children, but then I discovered that every September, Facebook melts down under the weight of bereaved parents cloying its servers with piteous posts of dear children gone away and parents left with nothing but misty memories of time slipped by and gone.
Clearly, inflicting this level of pain on their parents is aberrant behavior on the part of our young people. And yet, there are those who want to cloak this deviancy in the context of “science” in an attempt to normalize it. For instance, the learned psychologists refer to this activity as “separation” and claim that it is a “process” that leads to “healthy adults.” Well, Dena and I are adults, and I am here to tell you that this endeavor has NOT been good for our health. My heart is such a wreck, it has been re-christened the Edmund Fitzgerald.
What’s that you say? The “healthy adults” to which the learned psychologists refer are, in fact, our children? This is exactly the type of circular logic into which one becomes ensnared when one allows the learned psychologists to take the stage. Children becoming adults? What kind of skullduggery is this? The learned psychologists make me so mad with their highbrow twaddle that I start using inappropriate words like “highbrow” and “twaddle.” (Not to mention “skullduggery.”)
If I had known this misery was in store, I would have parented differently. I would have never allowed my children to go to school and become educated enough to qualify for this college farce. I would have spirited them away to some off-the-grid commune called the Moms-and-Dads-and-Kids-Forever-Happy-Place-No-Stupid-Learned-Psychologists-Allowed!
Or maybe I would have never let Ben climb down from those monkey bars. But, there are forces, once set in motion, that cannot be contravened, and I am reluctantly coming to accept that there is a new order that entails my child living unsupervised in the world. And unfortunately, from all reports (and believe me, they have been sparse) he is doing fine, which means: He is planning to stay. Oh! The indignity!
Dena and I are learning to fill our blasted-out chest cavities with something that resembles human emotions. Sam is treating us kindly, but we know that in the dark he is sharpening his blades, waiting to revisit this horror upon us in a few years’ time.
And so, yes, we move on, in more ways than one. It’s time, dear readers, after six wonderful years, for me to step out of the DadZone. I’m certain my sage advice has molded a generation of Richmond fathers, and to their children I can only say: I’m sorry.
In the meantime, I won’t go far. You never know where I might turn up, but if you’re looking for me, start with the monkey bars. I’m up there, spending an endless summer evening in the company of the 3-year-old with the irresistible eyes and shimmering blonde locks who will never want to go anywhere without his parents.