I drove Tomas up to Bangor yesterday morning. I had originally planned on just dropping him off at the curb at the airport, but then I realized he was checking bags, and that wasn’t something we’ve really done when flying before, so I parked and went in with him to give him one last bit of support before he headed off on his own. I went up with him to security (it was his first time in Bangor’s small airport, though I’m sure he could have figured it out himself), gave him a hug, told him I was proud of him and that I’d miss him, and then told him there was no way I was going to stand there waiving to him the whole time while he went through security. We said goodbye, and that was that.
I’ve been through a lot the last two or three years. Global pandemics. Job insecurity. The loss of a parent. But somehow simply saying goodbye to my son at the airport proved to be the hardest of all of those on me, emotionally. There are many, many ways I’m chiding myself over that fact. Many other parents deal with much more difficult goodbyes. He hasn’t passed away. He hasn’t stormed off in a rage. He’s leaving to go do something I’m fully in support of, and he’s growing into an amazing man.
And yet I’m still upset about it, and I’m having a hard time keeping it together, to be honest.
I know dads are supposed to be the emotional bedrock of a family. The ones who stoically keep it together at all times, because crying is weak. But honestly, I have come to realize over the course of the past 2.5 years that all that suppressing of emotion over the years is taking a real toll on me. I’ve actually been trying to cry more recently, knowing that it’s an excellent way of getting stress out of the body. Strangely, it’s required real effort for me to do it. I have had to really focus on allowing myself to feel that much sadness.
But seeing Tomas say goodbye to MC and Denisa and Ferris? (He’d said goodbye to Daniela the night before, as she had to leave early yesterday morning.) That about pushed me over the edge. I had to leave the room for a bit, as crying is one thing, but crying in front of people is still a bridge too far for me. Going up to his empty room last night, seeing it all dismantled and put away in preparation for MC to move in there, I just sat on his bed and bawled for fifteen minutes.
Some of this might stem from experiences I went through growing up. I lived with my mom in Pennsylvania. My dad lived in Utah. My brother, sister, and I would go out to Utah for a month each summer, and for Christmas every other winter. That always involved a car ride to the airport when we left, knowing that I’d be away from one parent for a month, and knowing that parent was sad. Then it involved another car ride to the airport on the way back, with the situation reversed. I hated (hated) those car rides. The sick feeling that would settle into my stomach as those goodbyes approached.
Taking Tomas to the airport yesterday, I had that same feeling again, and it set off some deep-seated memories in me.
Again, everything that’s going on for him is a good thing. He’s on his own, learning to do his own thing, but he’s got a lot of structure and support around him to help him as he makes that transition. He’s going home to Slovakia, which will give him a chance to connect with that side of his heritage. From the day he was born, Denisa has worked on teaching him Slovak. This has been something we’ve tried to be preparing for for a long, long time. He was excited to be off, and I can relate to that. I remember being in his shoes, nervous about what might come, but still really wanting to finally see how I did on my own. To set up my life the way I wanted it to be. (Though when I watched him head off for security, I had a very hard time not seeing the little boy I’ve known for years, going off to do something that I can’t help him with.)
I know none of this is unique to just me. I know literally billions of people have dealt with this over the years. But for Denisa and me, this was a first. A significant first in the same way it was a significant first for him. There aren’t a whole lot of those in your life. Leaving home. Getting married. Having a baby. Sending your child off to school. Having your child leave home. And just like all those other firsts, I’ve found it isn’t really something you can understand until you do it yourself. I’ve been dreading yesterday for the last half year at least. It was worse than I thought it would be.
The good news is that we got to talk to him yesterday evening. My father picked him up from the airport and will take him to the MTC today. Tomas had a great trip. I was surprised to hear he talked to a stranger all the way from Bangor to JFK, then he went to dinner with another stranger in JFK, and he met several other people who he had good interactions with. Having a missionary name tag can sometimes be a liability. People judge you without even knowing who you are. But it can also be an asset. The man on the flight from Bangor knew many members of our church and knew all about missionaries. Some members saw him in JFK and took him to dinner, knowing what he’s going through. And to have Tomas not just talk with those strangers, but to sound like he even enjoyed it?
He’s making big strides already. 🙂
Anyway. That’s about all I’ve got to say about that for now. We’ll get to talk to him once a week, which is so much more than I got to do as a missionary. That helps with this transition, but I’m sure it will continue to be difficult as I learn to adjust. Our family at home is now down to 4, and that will require some retooling for everyone. Tomas and I did a lot together. Playing Magic. Playing video games. Watching sports. I’ll likely end up switching up what I do week to week as well, tweaking things to spend time with Daniela and MC more. We’ll see where things all settle in a few months.
Thanks for all your well wishes. They’re very much appreciated.
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