When parents go away

It doesn’t happen often, but I was out of town for nine days last week – a week in D.C. for a job thing and then three days at my folks’ home in Nevada. The experience is enough to make me thank my lucky stars that I don’t have a job that often requires travel because, in short, the family doesn’t do well without all cylinders clicking.

Which isn’t to say that they can’t get along without me, but for our youngest, his is a life of predictable routines with the key players in place at the expected times. I’m the morning guy, the one who gets our kindergartner up, fed, dressed, brushed and out to the school bus on time. It can sometimes in itself be a monumental achievement, especially on those mornings when, for one reason or another, his normally frenetic pace is slowed to glacial speeds.

Since Jen is the night owl, having me gone is viewed as, well … something other than a welcome opportunity for early rising and a truly full day.

Andy has told me in no uncertain terms that my absence displeased him, and that he would much prefer I don’t ever go away again. Fair enough. Kids his age have that dog-like sense of time: Any wait is a never-ending one, and the current state – be it joy, misery or something in between – will remain in place indefinitely. So, while I have a pretty good idea of when my return is, to Andy it might as well be sometime in 2010.

Looking at absence a little more globally, Andy has nothing to complain about compared to kids whose moms or dads have routine travel as part of their regular job, with the ultimate case being military folks who are away for a year or more. I know from experience (my sister’s husband was a Navy pilot for 20 years) that it’s a rotten situation; one not to be sought by anyone and often regretted by those who sign on. Still, sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

It’s a positive thing, no doubt, that kids in families today (or, at least, those that don’t suffer divorce) enjoy much greater access to both parents than they ever did in the past. Dads are typically much more involved from the start, and the burden of constant attention that used to rest almost solely on Mom’s shoulders has been shifted to more of a shared project. This may not resemble the historical Western family composition very much at all, but it certainly seems to be a better arrangement from the perspective of all involved. Some men don’t make the adjustment as well – unable or unwilling to forgo the tee times and ski times they grew accustomed to as bachelors – and it’s likely they’ll be the ones in for a bumpy ride.

So, I came home to a very fine piece of artwork: a picture of me and Andy hugging and the words “I mist you” at the top. The signature rainbow was there, and I was back in place to read the latest installment of “Goosebumps” at bedtime. The way it ought to be.

And for all the training I received – however valuable – I couldn’t help but be struck by the realization that, at the end of the day, everything I need to learn is pretty much right here at home.


Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2920 or at amiller@vaildaily.com.




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