Rick Gabrielly on saying good-bye to his son.
And then he was gone.
That hug was much tighter than usual. I saw both men clutching each other as if it would be their last hug. Ever.
At first I simply saw two guys hugging in an airport terminal. No biggie. See it everyday. So I kept walking into the flickering reflections from the stainless steel snake of the baggage conveyor at Claim 2 of New York’s Kennedy Airport. There’s an emotional element to the airport and it’s travelers. When you think about it, each person is leaving someone behind and/or coming to meet someone. But either way, I feel deeply connected to all their stories.
Watching this father and son hug touched me much deeper than I knew at that moment. Their fingers turned white as they dug into each other’s shirts. Heads buried in shoulders, eyes closed extra tight. This was different. I was in that hug with them.
As a father of two sons, I’ve lived as a witness to many goodbyes between my boys and Carol, my wife. First there was the date night hand off to the babysitter. Poor Carol had to leave Alex (our first born) with Maria for the first time. She was sick. That date was tough. We tried to go out and have some fun, but Carol was unable to think about anything else but her baby alone with some stranger. I didn’t realize that night, while trying to console her, that I hurt deeply from that goodbye also.
Then came school. Same thing. My efforts to help Carol through made my feelings somehow “smaller.” Was my pain any less just because a mother was hurting? No. But it wasn’t talked about. In fact, when I look back over all these big goodbyes, it was even said that since I was a man, a dad, that I wanted my sons to go because it was good for them to become men. To “cut the cord” from mommy and find their independence. Dad was here to push these birds out of the nest.
Next came the first overnight sleepover at a friend’s house. Same thing. Same feelings. Same shadows.
I only realized yesterday that all this time, I’ve been keeping my emotions checked because someone else seemingly felt worse. So why would I make it about me? I wouldn’t.
The worst goodbye came when Alex had to leave for college. In fact, it lasted over a year. The months, days and hours leading up to this goodbye were horrible. Our entire family was openly hurting and we did lots of talking about it so Carol and Max (our youngest) would have the chance to process the loss, any feelings and emotions. Once again, I minimized my expression of pain to help others get through it.
For all you fathers out there who have said goodbye to your sons and had to keep a stiff upper lip, or protect someone else from pain so you couldn’t fully feel your own, consider this permission for the next time. It’s not only OK to be in pain, but it’s fine to let your son, wife, other kids and the world know it.
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Photo credit: Getty Images