Bye-bye, biker

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.

41 thoughts on “Bye-bye, biker”

      1. My youngest flew the next last year and the house got very quiet. They’re all four such good kids, smart, hard working; they’ve all lapped me!

  1. Beautiful. Hits me right in the heart having dropped off our first at college this past weekend. Congrats to all of you to get to this point!

  2. As long as we’re talking here, I’ve found these words to be somewhat comforting:

    Your children are not your children,
    They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you, but not from you.
    And though they are with you,
    they do not belong to you.
    Who they become has less to do with who you are,
    than who they are.
    You may give them your love,
    but not your thoughts or values.
    By your example, you show a way that is yours,
    as they search for theirs.
    You are the bow from which your children,
    as living arrows, are sent forth.
    The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and he bends you with His might,
    that
    His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending, in the Archer’s hand,
    be steadfastly true to yourself.
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so too does
    He love the bow that is strong and stable.”
    –Omar Khayyam

    Pretty good. Beats the doggy-doodoo out of “…tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”, don’t you think?

  3. Thank you again. Finished the blog and immediately called my son (went away to college two years ago) and told him how much I love and miss him. I’m still chocked up as I write this.

    One of my favorite authors penned a booked titled “Don’t forget to call your momma, wish I could still call mine”. I’d love to tell my parents I love them just one more time. I’m sure they would love and be proud of my son too.

    Thank you again

  4. Funny how things hit you out of the blue. Bobby went off to college and has been back maybe 10 days and it never phased me. I came back from a week business trip to see the middliest had COMPLETELY packed her room to go to college the next day and burst into tears. My youngest packed up without a problem, we deposited her in the dorm no problem, posted a picture of her at college on FB and the tears started flowing. I’m SO happy that my kids are independent, successful, fully engaged on their road in life, nothing holds them back, but every once in awhile I’m a just little jealous that I don’t get to tag along. I’m thrilled that I get to hear the stories though from time to time.

    I’m sure Hans will be full of great stories to tell when he gets back.

  5. Good stuff Seth.
    I hope I feel just like that when my sons go.
    That’s how it’s supposed to be.

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