Rites of passage

It’s a little ironic that one often speaks of life events from the point of view of a young person. Last weekend, I drove Adam to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. At first, I was thinking of the same point in my life 26 years ago, recalling the excitement, the emotions, the constant discovery, and the transition to independence that all kids must experience when heading off to a college far from home. I sensed Adam bucking at the reins, impatient for me to let go, to leave. But then I found myself thinking of my parents, especially my dad.

22 years ago, after college, and my last summer at home, Dad and I drove up to Michigan, where he dropped me off to start my professional career in the fall of 1990. I remember my mom crying in the driveway as we drove away from the house, and I wondered if I’d do the same. Since I kept the car we drove up in, Dad flew home on an airplane. But last weekend, I knew that I would be driving home from Pittsburgh, so during most the weekend at Carnegie-Mellon, knowing that I faced this long drive home alone, I kept thinking of Dad, and wondered what he felt like flying home to Texas, being alone on the plane for about as long as it takes to drive from Pittsburgh to Detroit. And then he would have to face mom, without me, just like I would have to face Cyndi, without Adam.

So many times during my parenting life, I think of my Dad. This summer, for example, I get up to go to work while my kids are still asleep. The house is quiet, except for my footsteps in the kitchen and the hallway. When I was in middle and high school, my room was next to the kitchen, and I remember hearing Dad’s footsteps in the kitchen, as he ate breakfast and put his dishes away early in the morning, before Mom or my brothers got up. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about this summer in the mornings, literally walking in his footsteps.

Sometimes, things break in the house, or something goes wrong with the car and matters have to be attended to immediately, despite my plans for something else entirely. Once, we had a drainage problem in the sewer line from our house to the connection under the street during a very heavy rainstorm, and I had to drop everything I was doing, move items away from the growing puddle in the basement, mop and wet-vacuum the water, and run to the hardware store for some plumbing equipment to save the basement. During that time, I remembered: when I was a kid, we were all dressed up to head to a wedding or quinceanera, only to discover something was seriously wrong with our car. Dad immediately went back in the house, changed, came back outside, got oily and messy and sweaty, fixed whatever it was, and then cleaned up, got dressed again, and off we went.

At Carnegie-Mellon, Adam showed me the student center, where the campus store was, and I found the section, with all the swag: shirts, sweaters, hats and so on. I started to shop for souvenirs for the family. Then I stopped; I figured if Adam felt strongly about it, he would make time to pick out his own souvenirs for us, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But I wanted something for myself. And when I found what I wanted, I thought of my Dad yet again, because he has one just like this, just from a different school. Rites of passage aren’t just for kids, are they?