Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Adelor is dead and I don't feel so hot myself

      I was talking about columns that I haven't written yesterday when I slid into "The Death of Klinghofffer" ditch and couldn't get out, exploring the controversy of the John Adams opera at such length there wasn't room for anything else.
     But the column or, rather, non-column I had in mind was the one about my older son going off to college. Nearly 20 years of writing about him in the newspaper, and he just vanishes, in a puff, exit stage left, to California. Nobody has said, "Where's the obligatory ave atque vale?"

    I wondered about that myself, though I had a pat answer.
    I've seen a million of those, and liked the idea of being the one columnist who didn't see his kid off poignantly for college, with tears and insight. I know people whose kids are never going to college, and performing the death scene from Tristan over mine traveling a three-hour plane trip away seemed unseemly. 
    Count your blessings, give thanks, don't complain. Not everything belongs in the newspaper.
    Besides, the goodbye fell flat, and reflected poorly on me, and I was loath to tell it. Rather than fly to Los Angeles to say goodbye to him properly, like a smart man would have done, I had the dumb idea of letting my wife take him, my big idea being that I would then follow, the reinforcements, a month later, when perhaps he was homesick, perhaps when a visit from the old da would be even more valuable. Clever dad!
     So I said goodbye at O'Hare, or tried to. He sort of pulled back from my hug, as if my clothes were dirty. But that's how teenage boys are, or mine anyway. I drove off, swallowing hard but that's all. Then a bright smile—well, check that off, one boy raised, dust the hands and then off to No. 2, kneeling on deck, twisting his hands around a bat handle.
     I only regretted my decision to stay home after my wife relayed back all the pomp and circumstance of the big Pomona welcome -- a parade, in essence, parties and ceremonies. Missed them all, irretrievable. Who knew? When I went off to school, ulp, 35 years ago, the frats had a bunch of beer blasts and your parents weren't invited. Meanwhile, rather than any mano-a-mano bonding time, son No. 2 met my suggestion we go out to dinner with "How about you bring carry-out home? I'm sort of busy." 
     A month later, when it came time for me to buy my plane ticket to LA, my older son said, "What are we going to do all that time?" and I quickly established that I would be intruding upon his firmly established freshman routine. Clever, dad. I batted away disappointment. This, this is good, I told myself. Saves money. Some kids dive into college with a splash of problems. My kid, when I asked, "Do you need anything?" replied, "Send my viola tuner."
      To be honest, I didn't think about him much. He was where he needed to be, having a great time. The spheres were in their proper places in the heavens. A central planet of my life for the previous 18 years was suddenly a lot farther away, that's all. An occasionally-felt loss, as if the moon were reduced to the size of a pinprick.
      Cut to last Sunday. A pleasant morning rowing on the Lincoln Park Lagoon -- a column to come on that, no reader requests necessary. I finished about lunchtime, and thought I'd stroll in the Lincoln Park Zoo. Hadn't been in years. We used to live nearby, and we'd always bring the boys there in their big double stroller. "The bus," I called it. They loved the zoo. What child doesn't? They had elephants back then and everything.
     Gaze at the tiger. A couple lions, lolling, up close and personal. The Helen Brach Primate House ("Who DID kill old Helen?") But it wasn't the same, alone—what is? Soon I was heading back to the car. 
     But I paused in front of something new. A bronze statue of Adelor, the much-beloved lion that we used to visit. You'd be in another part of the zoo, and hear the low resonating rumble of Adelor's roar. A true king, he was. The boys loved him. Now in bronze, which is a poor substitute for lion. Kids were running around, climbing the statue, shrieking in delight.
     A woman was with them, and caught my eye.
     "Four more hours of this," she said, wearily.
     "Mine are off in college," I replied, twisting the truth for the sake of brevity. No. 2 doesn't leave until next August, but close enough.
      "So..." the woman said, catching my drift, "enjoy them while you can?" 
      "Exactly," I said, walking to the car, starting it up, pulling back carefully, then driving south toward the exit gate. 
     Only then it hit me, after a two month delay, like the thunder that follows loping along after lightning. The old lion was dead, and all those days of strolling the boys around the zoo, gone, the years of squiring them here and there, gone, the fun and the laughter, all gone, irretrievably gone. Gone gone gone, reduced to a thumbnail of grey goo in the corner of my brain and, maybe, theirs, as they hurtle into their new lives, not a glance over their shoulders, while I am left an old man haunting the margins of life, trading quips with beleaguered mothers, smiling at other people's children.
     And here we'll draw the veil. It hit me hard for a few seconds — delayed reaction, I suppose— and then I shook it off, composed myself and drove home for lunch. 


  1. Thank you Neil. Was contemplating cancelling tomorrow's trip to California to visit the 8 month grandchild because of a "bad week" at work. You have counseled me well.

  2. Great column. My son is at college this year too. You captured how it feels .


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