From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Saying Good-bye

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

Marcel Proust

Stan pulled the moving-van door closed and wiped his sweaty face. “Whew! We’re finally done.”

I smiled and took my husband’s hand as we trudged toward the back door. “Who would have thought a nine-by-eleven–foot bedroom could hold enough to fill a sixteen-foot truck?”

Inside, we walked to our older son’s nearly empty room and found him stuffing the last of his clothes into a suitcase.

“Well, tomorrow’s the big day. Soon you’ll be in your new apartment.” Stan enveloped Brian in a bear hug.

Brian grinned and hugged his dad back.

Some fathers have difficulty expressing affection for their sons. My husband is not one of them. When our two boys were young, Stan did all the guy things with them—wrestled and roughhoused, played sports, and built things—but he never hesitated to heap plenty of hugs and kisses on them, too. So it was no surprise to me that my husband’s demonstrations of love continued as they got older. The boys willingly returned his embraces. They had never known any other way.

The next day, we loaded the rest of Brian’s things into his Ford Escort and headed our convoy toward Atlanta, where graduate school awaited. Brian’s four years in college had flown by. Now ready to test his wings, he eagerly anticipated living on his own, seven hours away from home.

A flurry of unpacking, cleaning, and shopping followed our arrival. Stan and our younger son, Jeremy, installed track lighting in the poorly lit living room. Brian arranged books on his new shelves, and I stocked kitchen cabinets. Before long, the apartment looked almost lived-in.

The next morning, I was all set to start the trip home, but Stan seemed to drag out our departure. I tried to be patient and busy myself with more cleaning and straightening, but my tolerance evaporated when I saw Stan and Brian head out the door at 11:00 AM. “Where are you two going?”

“Home Depot to get another lamp for the bedroom. We’ll be back soon.”

Two hours later, they returned with armloads of more furnishings to assemble. It was 3:00 PM before we exchanged our final hugs and kisses and got into the car. Stan started the engine, and we pulled out of the parking space. When I turned to wave one more time, I saw a look on Brian’s face that explained Stan’s reluctance to leave. The bravado was gone. The excitement of living on his own had collided with reality, and he looked like a lost little boy.

It was a long trip home.

If parting was tough on Brian, it was even tougher on Stan. For two weeks he hardly slept and admitted that he often woke up in a cold sweat, dreaming something had happened to his son. Stan made excuses to call Brian several times a day because he’d suddenly remembered something he “forgot to tell him”—things like when to change his oil filter or how to hang a picture or some equally weighty matter. He appeared to find comfort in hearing Brian’s voice, but the words they always used to say good-bye cheered him the most.

“I love you, Brian.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

Slowly the pain of separation lessened, and Brian weaned his dad to one phone call a day. After Brian made a quick trip home for Labor Day weekend, Stan slacked off to three or four calls a week. Each conversation, however, ended the same way.

“I love you, Brian.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

Two months after our son’s move, Stan was almost back to normal. He called Brian one Friday evening for a now-weekly chat. Hearing voices in the background, Stan asked where he was.

“I’m at a restaurant with friends from church. Can I call you back tomorrow?”

“Sure.” Determined not to humiliate Brian by wringing an “I love you” from him, Stan abstained from his usual closing and ended the conversation with “Talk to you later. ’Bye.”

The next day, Brian called his dad. With a note of indignation in his voice, he asked, “Why didn’t you say ‘I love you’ last night?”

Stan stammered. “I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends.”

“If my friends don’t like me saying ‘I love you’ to my dad, that’s their problem. But I expect you to say ‘I love you.’ Got it?”

“Got it!”

“I love you, Dad.”

“I love you, too, Brian.”

Tracy Crump

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